Welcome back to OpenOdds’ Darts Round Up, where this week we will be casting an eye back over a surprising inaugural Czech Open, and looking ahead to the US Masters in Las Vegas. We’ll also, as usual, bring you the other salient news from the world of darts, with the World Matchplay at the end of the month getting ever closer, and new names being added to the draw for the action in Blackpool.
The past week’s action saw Michael van Gerwen return – briefly – to the oche, and he continues his comeback after a short break by heading up the eight-strong European contingent touching down in the Nevada desert. We’ll look at the bookmakers’ odds for the Masters, and check out the chances of another surprise winner. But first, a look at what happened when the PDC Tour went to the Czech Republic for the first time…
Bohemian Rhapsody for Hughes
The field for the first-ever PDC event in Prague was impressively packed, with van Gerwen among the top names to sign up – others including Daryl Gurney, James Wade and Gerwyn Price. The contenders also included four Czech throwers, who entered at the first round and, almost without exception, lost there. The exception, Karel Sedlacek, gave Ian White a tough time in the second round, before also departing, 6-4 in their best-of-eleven match. However, if that was a disappointment for the locals, they can at least say that one of their men got as far in the tournament as Michael van Gerwen.
MvG entered, and lost, at the second stage, with 26-year-old Keegan Brown picking up the victory after eleven keenly-fought legs. This very much set the pattern for a day of upsets, as Saturday also saw Wade and Peter Wright knocked out. However, if Gurney and co. saw the draw opening up for them, Sunday’s action will have brought them crashing back to reality. The Northern Irishman, along with Mensur Suljovic and White, saw his bid ended at the quarter-final stage – Suljovic losing to Brown, while White was ejected by West-Midlander Jamie Hughes.
This left us with a semi-final line-up including Hughes, Brown, Jamie Bunting and Simon Whitlock. The latter being the only remaining seeded player, it only makes sense that he was summarily thrashed 7-3 by Hughes, while Brown ended a personally successful tournament with a 7-4 loss to Bunting. It would be Hughes who carried his form through to the final, winning 8-3 to secure his first-ever tour title and secure his spot in the World Matchplay. He may be a 66/1 outsider with William Hill to win it, but that’s shorter than his starting odds in Prague, so there’s reason for him to be optimistic.
Sin City welcomes the PDC Tour
If the Czech Open was something of a graveyard of the seeds, then there is at least less of a chance that the stars will find themselves buried in the desert during this week’s round of the PDC Tour. The US Masters, starting this Thursday at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay casino, features just sixteen players, of which eight will be highly-ranked Europeans including van Gerwen, Gurney, Price and a returning Rob Cross. The other eight will be North American qualifiers, chosen at the end of two days of action across today and tomorrow.
With eight European players taking on eight North American, scope for the number and level of shocks that we saw in Prague is certainly limited – although there are sure to be some surprising results. Michael van Gerwen is, as expected, favourite again, but given his tendency to treat tournaments like this as glorified practice sessions, you might be better served by putting your money elsewhere. Cross, who sat out the trip to Eastern Europe, will be fresh and ready, and with SportingBet pricing him at 8/1, might well be worth backing.
Is van Gerwen losing his dominance?
With his early exit in Prague, Michael van Gerwen did create a stat that he won’t be overjoyed to hear about. Across the month of June, he didn’t win a single title. Now, let’s be fair here – a lot of players didn’t win a title in June. The reason we bring it up here is because of just how out of the ordinary it is; it’s the first month since 2014 that he hasn’t managed to take home a single trophy. Coming in a season where he has won the Premier League, and took four of the first five PDC Tour titles, and in a year which started with him regaining the World Championship, it’s at least some measure of reassurance for his chasing pack.
There is some sign that bookmakers are starting to adjust for van Gerwen’s slight slip in form – while you still won’t get him at anything better than odds-on in Las Vegas without an odds boost, his odds are moving out for the bigger competitions. It’s nothing that could be called a crisis right now, but with bookmakers such as 888 he has moved from odds-on favourite to Evens for the World Matchplay coming up at the end of this month. As ever, we need to reckon with MvG’s ability to turn it on when it really matters, so it’s still smart to be careful when backing anyone else – and at the age of 30, he’s certainly got years at the top left in him. For now, though, there are signs of vulnerability in the World Number One.