Welcome back to OpenOdds’ Darts Round Up, where this week we’re looking at a relatively sedate recent schedule. Over the weekend, 128 professionals found themselves in the northern German city of Hildersheim to fight it out for prize money that will decide the top 64 names in the Players’ Championship, whose finals will take place this autumn at Butlin’s in Minehead. Absent from the competition were a number of the top names, including several whose participation in the finals is more or less assured already. As we will go on to see, this meant an opportunity for players in the “bubbling under” category to strengthen their claim for an eventual finals place.
We will also turn our attention towards the lands Down Under; the PDC Tour is heading to the Antipodes for three weeks of Masters competition, starting with the Brisbane Masters before moving on to Melbourne and finishing out in Hamilton with the New Zealand Masters. World number one Michael van Gerwen is on the list of players who will be present, and must be hoping to pick up at least one of the trophies given that he is currently on a run of six tournaments without glory. Having sat out the action in Hildersheim, it’s safe to assume that he’ll have been working on his game in the meantime. The bookmakers are convinced he’s best placed to win in each of the three upcoming tournaments – are they right to think a turn is imminent?
Success for Ratajski and Dolan in Hildersheim
No van Gerwen, no Gurney, no Wright, no Cross, no… well, you get the picture. The leading lights of the PDC Tour by and large gave the beautiful city of Hildersheim a miss. Their camera roll’s loss was the gain of a few hopefuls, in particular Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski and Northern Irish darter Brendan Dolan, who won Players Championship Rounds 21 and 22 respectively. The Polish player now has two PC titles to his name for 2019 and has moved up to number 3 in the tournament’s Order of Merit. Not yet guaranteed a place in the finals, but now with an excellent chance of being present in Minehead, he’s increasingly a player to watch.
Dolan, for his part, moves up to 32, well within the field of 64 players currently holding a qualifying position, but will still have more work to do. He was an 8-5 winner over Jermaine Wattimena in Sunday’s final, and opened up after his victory about the fact that he had been considering retirement from the game. A reality-check text from his wife after he had lost in the first round of the previous day’s action seems to have worked wonders, as he saw off Glen Durrant and Dave Chisnall on his way to defeating the Dutch World Cup representative. Dolan may still be a 500/1 shot with Unibet to win the World Championship, but it’s heartening to see him throwing as well as he did in Germany.
Brisbane on the horizon; can MvG turn it around?
The big guns return to the oche for this weekend’s action in Australia, where eight players taken from the World Series Order of Merit face a collection of qualifiers and wildcards from the New Zealand and Australian darts fraternity. With the draw yet to be made, we merely know the seedings – and due in part to his recent turn as a walking odds boost, Michael van Gerwen is seeded fifth. That doesn’t stop the bookies from ranking him as favourite to win the title – he’s 6/4 with William Hill – but he’ll have a lot of work to do if he wants to win his first title since the Premier League, which he picked up at the end of May. Since then, he’s appeared in one final (at the Dutch Masters), but more recently has been out before the action really gets into gear.
Form is temporary, and class permanent, of course. However, the more tournaments he enters and doesn’t win, the more people will come to view van Gerwen as a player who can be beaten. His loss to Durrant at the World Matchplay, unlike any of his other recent slips, cannot be put down to MvG keeping his best darts under wraps for the big tournaments. It would be a good time for the universally-recognised best player in the world to remind his rivals of what he can do. Will that start in Brisbane? Possibly, but we did think that about the tournaments in Blackpool, Las Vegas, Prague and a long and growing list of others. When does a poor run become a crisis?
If not MvG, then who? A competitive field for the Masters
The field for the upcoming tournaments is not packed – sixteen players will enter the fray in each, and across four rounds they will winnow things down. In Las Vegas, this format meant that the eight ranked players contested the quarter-finals after eliminating their American opponents. Here, the seventh-ranked Raymond van Barneveld is widely tipped to be an early casualty, with the bookmakers pricing him longer than wild-card qualifiers Corey Cadby and Kyle Anderson. Simon Whitlock, ranked eighth, is also more fancied than Barney; how much this has to do with his relative “home” advantage is open to question.
A more interesting bet may be had with Rob Cross, who enjoyed a weekend off after winning the World Matchplay and comes into this tournament with the second seeding. Betway are pricing him generously at 11/2, which may be the best bet available considering that he’s in the opposite half of the draw to perhaps the player of the summer, Peter Wright. If those two meet in the final, it will certainly be an intriguing battle.