Michael van Gerwen is the clear and undeniable favourite as we enter the showpiece William Hill World Darts Championship.
The two-time winner is looking to defend his crown after defeating Gary Anderson 7-3 in the final at Alexandra Palace.
‘Mighty Mike’ has won the last four events - European Championships, World Series Finals, Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals – so enters this in fine fettle.
He had a spell of bursitis in his ankle in the middle of the year and has shaken that off, plus has dealt with moving home and becoming a father for the first time.
The 28-year-old has looked unstoppable in recent events and even when players average around the 102 mark against him, he manages to find a 105 average to see them off.
The 8/11 on him to win is skinny but it’s fair to say he has a nice opening in the top quarter with just Raymond van Barneveld likely to cause him a stern test in the quarter-finals.
Gary Anderson always turns up at Alexandra Palace and he’s proved that in the last three years here having reached the final on three occasions – winning twice (2015 and 2016).
He was looking in excellent shape during the World Series Finals and Grand Slam of Darts where his scoring was its usual high standard and his doubling was better than usual.
If he can get the checkouts flowing then there is no reason why he won’t be there to trouble van Gerwen on New Year’s Day.
There was a blip in the Players Championship Finals when there were personal reasons that saw his concentration elsewhere and understandably so.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ is in the fourth quarter and is likely to come up against Phil Taylor, if all goes to plan. That game would be an excellent watch and Anderson has got the better of ‘The Power’ of late winning their last two meetings.
Being the second seed makes him the obvious second favourite and 6/1 to win it isn’t bad for someone who has won it twice and operates to a high level on this Ally Pally stage.
Peter Wright is the one that has drifted in the last couple of weeks in the build-up to the tournament.
The Scot has been in and out of hospital, which always leaves the question of how much work he’ll have been able to do on the practice board.
With ‘Snakebite’ being one of the hardest workers away from the stage that makes it difficult for me to have any confidence in him to go deep into this event, especially if being unable to put the hours in.
He has a few banana skins along the way with the first Brazilian to reach the World Championships in Diogo Portela in the first round then a potential test against Johnny Clayton, Players Championship runner-up, in the second round.
It’ll be a stern test of Wright right from the get go and if he’s off his game he is likely to be punished and I do think he could face an early exit.
Rob Cross has been the darting sensation this year but one thing he’s been unable to do is see of MvG on the big stage.
12 months ago Cross was an electrician, whose hobby was darts, now he’s turned that into a career he’s made huge waves this season winning nearly a quarter of a million in prize money.
‘Voltage’ proved capable of hitting the big averages across a number of tournaments throughout the year and his record in the build-up to this event sees two quarter-finals and a semi-final with two of those defeats coming at the hands of MvG.
However, this is his debut here at Alexandra Palace and only two debutants have ever reached the World Championship Final – Simon Whitlock and Kirk Shepherd – so this is a tough ask from a man who isn’t short of confidence.
I’ve raved about him all season but have doubts about him in the set play format. The World Grand Prix is the same format and Cross was knocked out in the first round by Steve Beaton.
You can argue that the double-in of that competition adds to its difficulty and Cross is usually one of the more efficient on the outer ring but he didn’t show that in Dublin.
He’s got the game there is no doubt about that but in his debut year it’s a tall order for him, especially in the competitive second quarter that features plenty of dangerous players.
Phil Taylor goes for one last hurrah as the 16-time world champion will put down the tungsten at the end of this event.
He hasn’t won this title since 2013 and was runner-up in 2015 but I’m sure he’ll have planned his schedule around this tournament to make sure he’s in the best possible shape to win it.
‘The Power’ has carefully selected the events in which he’s participated in and proved he still had the ability and stamina in Blackpool when lifting the World Matchplay title in relentless fashion.
That’s his only win this calendar year but he’s reached the semi-final stage in a number of events from the Masters at the beginning of the year, Premier League, and Grand Slam of Darts.
It would of course be fitting for him to lift the Sid Waddell Trophy in the New Year but he faces a tricky test in the opening round against Chris Dobey and with Gary Anderson potentially lying in wait then I’d pass Taylor over.
Adrian Lewis has had a hit-and-miss season after it was interrupted in July for him to have back surgery on a problem that plagued him throughout the World Matchplay.
He played some decent darts in the Players Championship Finals and his tournament was ended by Cross in the third round.
‘Jackpot’ averaged around the 98 mark in each of those three games and seemed to get some good grouping from his new set of darts.
After that event he admitted that he was enjoying practice, which has rekindled his passion for the game and on his day he can take a lot of stopping if finding a good rhythm and range.
One think I’ve questioned about him in the past is his mental fortitude in different situations but now 32-year’s old he should have matured and be able to cope in those testing scenarios.
He’s in the third quarter, which looks the kindest of the lot in truth and with Wright’s health unknown then Lewis at 5/2 to win this part of the draw is definitely a bet that interests me.
People forgot he’s a two-time World Champion, having taken top honours in 2011 and 2012. New darts, a new found love for the game and over all of his problems earlier in the year then at his price he cannot be ignore.
Daryl Gurney has had a stellar year after winning his first major in the World Grand Prix and he remains a threat in this event having had his best time here last year when reaching the quarter-final.
He’s improved a lot from last year and he’s shown that week-in week-out on the tour and he’s been one of MvG’s main challengers throughout.
‘Superchin’ has all the assets from high scoring and clinical finishing on the D16 and D8 but he’s in the trickiest of the quarters to solve. He’s with Cross, Michael Smith, Mensur Suljovic, Jelle Klaasen, Robert Thornton and Stephen Bunting, who all on their day are capable of beating the Northern Irishman.
It’ll be tough for Gurney but he can prove his champion characteristics if overcoming the tough draw, however he looks up against it.
Mensur Suljovic is the most unorthodox of those on show Alexandra Palace but he’s had an excellent year having reached four quarter-finals and then winning the Champions League of Darts.
His style can frustrate many rivals and the Austrian can start by beating Kevin Painter in the first round before making a charge at this tough second quarter.
If things go to plan then Klaasen or Bunting will be waiting for him in the Last 16 then it’ll be Cross or Gurney in the quarter-final.
It’ll be a test of his game and character because he can be a slow starter but given the open nature of this part of the draw the 4/1 on ‘The Gentle’ winning quarter two appeals.
Raymond van Barneveld has reached the semi-finals of this event in four of the last five years and the Dutchman can beat anyone on his day.
Yet, he is one that sometimes lacks the belief and self-confidence that a five-time world champion should have.
‘Barney’ doesn’t arrive here in the best of form either having not got past the second round in his last three events and that is part of the reason he’s as big as he is in the market.
He’s slipped down the rankings over the past 12 months meaning he finds himself in the same quarter as MvG, which doesn’t help matters, but think back to 2016 when he defeated his compatriot 4-3 in the third round.
It’s a tall order for him to achieve one more world title in what is the deepest World Championship but if focussing on his ability and channelling that belief then he could spring a surprise against the defending champion.
Adrian Lewis 33/1 Each-Way
First Quarter – Michael van Gerwen (1/5)
Second Quarter – Mensur Suljovic (4/1)
Third Quarter – Adrian Lewis (5/2)
Fourth Quarter – Gary Anderson (EVS)
Four-fold pays: 39/1 - Coral
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