Monday, 11 December 2017

WC Preview Past 16 - boothismanbooooooo.gif, and that's just White for that stupid dabbing

Gerwyn Price (2/5) v Ted Evetts (5/2)

Price holds set on throw - 77.32%
Evetts holds set on throw - 32.20%

Price made the step up from solid top 32 player who can occasionally win Pro Tour events to legitimate contender this season, mainly because of that UK Open final appearance. Peter Wright would be too strong in the final, and he really should have been eliminated in the semi by Norris who missed darts to break and throw for the match, and should have gone out to potential second round opponent White in the quarters who bust a single darter allowing Price to pin 160. How Hogan didn't beat him after taking out Anderson and Lewis is also a question, but oh well. He's not done a great deal on TV outside of that - he got Taylor in the Matchplay, managed just one win in each of the Grand Prix, European Championship and Players Championship Finals. That UK Open run got him into the Grand Slam (having the World Cup final as backup), but in a win and you're in match against Jamie Hughes, he managed to lose 5-1 which knocked his leg difference badly enough to allow Steve Lennon to advance instead. It could be enough that, if he makes the last sixteen here and doesn't get completely crushed by van Gerwen, that he still makes the Premier League, there's spots available and crowds love someone to hate. His figures are at least indicating he should be worth a punt. On the floor it's mostly been consistency, not making any finals, but three semi finals and eight quarter finals overall is not a bad return, he's well in the bracket where he's seeded for European Tour events, and apart from seemingly forgetting to enter some tournaments mid season, he's had a good record of not dropping the opening match.

Evetts is a name some people may remember from the 2016 Grand Slam, where he won through the qualifier and although he didn't get any wins, did at least perform respectably against Peter Wright, Jeff Smith and Simon Whitlock. This season he had a good start - in the second year of a tour card needing to get money on the board to retain it, he hit a nine in UK Open qualifying, making the last 32 twice to get into the 96 of the main event. He beat Paul Milford to make the money then Andrew Gilding once there, but got annihilated by Kim Huybrechts in the last 32. His tour form since then has been a bit disappointing, only winning his board three times on the main tour (although he did claim one title on the Development Tour), and only qualifying for Europe twice, falling in the first round to Ronny Huybrechts at Riesa, but getting a victory over Joe Murnan in Jena before pushing Stephen Bunting close. With a record of busting out first round more often than not on the Pro Tour, including in the last five events, it was somewhat of a surprise to see him win the PDPA qualifier, one day after getting to the quarters of the world youth (losing to eventual winner Dimitri van den Bergh 6-4), in a run which saw him overcome an early hurdle in Robbie Green, then a bit of an easier path through to the quarters, i.e. the critical round with three spots available, there he beat Jeffrey de Graaf, defeated Chris Quantock in the semi final to lock his spot here, then a 5-1 job over Brendan Dolan got him through to the first round. By all accounts he was throwing a lot better than he has done at that qualifier, so could be dangerous.

After Price went out first round last year, this is the sort of match that's a banana skin, but one he really should be winning. There's a lot at stake, and Evetts isn't going to fear him and should have the crowd on his side. If Price can claim the opening set it might be a bit much for Evetts to chase, but if not, it's definitely game on.

Ian White (3/10) v Willard Bruguier or Cody Harris (17/5, Bruguier 15/8, Harris 8/15 to advance)

No data available for set winning chances

And to our final match. Ian White hasn't been able to add to his list of ranking titles, having managed a hat trick last year, which is a bit of a surprise as he's usually good for at least one each year, and more surprising given that his scoring numbers are really very good, much better than his ranking suggests. We mentioned the UK Open a bit in the Price writeup, that was a big opportunity to get to what would have been a first major semi final, and who knows what from there - Norris certainly wasn't unbeatable. He qualified well, started off in Europe well with a quarter and a semi in the first three events (beaten by van Gerwen in one, beating van Gerwen in another before losing to van de Pas), and would continue in mid season with probably his best chances for a title with two finals in three events - losing a deciding leg to Rob Cross would hurt, losing 6-1 to Gary Anderson maybe as much but in different ways. Since then and since the quick European start he's not done so well, Europe being a lot of first round exits so no points for Diamond, and one and done if it isn't a first round defeat, while two board wins out of the last eight Players Championship events isn't a brilliant return. On TV, he drew Rob Cross in the Matchplay, tough draw but he kept it fairly close at 10-7, at the Grand Prix he took Suljovic to a deciding set but couldn't get it done, he'd beat Darren Webster in Hasselt for a best realistic return (winning just one leg against MvG in the next round), but he couldn't qualify for the Grand Slam having lost to Jeffrey de Zwaan in the qualifier, but at least got a couple of wins in Minehead over Barney and John Henderson before being eliminated by James Wade.

For the second year running White will face a preliminary qualifier. Bruguier was somewhat of a surprise winner of the North American qualifier, being relatively unknown at the time and with a few big names to come through, taking out Canadian youngster Dawson Murchell in the semi final before eliminating former qualifier Dave Richardson in a deciding leg in the final. Bruguier would play the US Darts Masters the next day, and lose 6-4 to Gerwyn Price with an 80 average, possibly deflated by only hitting 4/22 on doubles and Price barely reaching 85 himself. He plays some soft tip, and played the 2016 World Masters losing 3-0 to Ratajski, but the amount of information we have is fairly limited. What we do know is that the US qualifier hasn't produced a great standard of player in recent years - Snook did nothing against Viljanen last year, Darin Young didn't look amazing last time out in 2016, and the aforementioned Richardson had his chances against a declining Andy Hamilton but couldn't do anything with them.

Cody Harris is on debut here having won the New Zealand qualifier, defeating Rob Szabo and Warren Parry to reach it here, both of whom have made the PDC worlds before. Harris nearly qualified last year, reaching the final of the Oceanic Masters, and this season he's played a fair chunk of the DPA tour, winning three events beating Cadby, Mathers and Mathewson in the finals (those being the top three in the final points standings, Harris ending up seventh). In the World Series exbo events, he did OK - getting four legs off Whitlock in Auckland and three legs off Taylor in Melbourne where he pushed his average into the 90's. He's previously reached the last 32 of the World Masters, apparently averaging near 100 in a 3-0 defeat to Scott Waites, and is a veteran of the World Cup, partnering Szabo and Parry in the last couple of years but being unable to get victories with tough draws against Belgium and Scotland.

Harris seems to be the better player based off their general record, but in a short race to two sets anything can happen. I think White should be fairly comfortable if he plays like he can, but it wouldn't take too much of a drop off for things to be in a situation where Harris in particular can capitalise.

And that's the lot. Bets to follow in the next couple of days when I've done some further number crunching and looked at the lines in more detail.

As I often say, this is a darts blog and not a PDC blog, so I'll briefly comment on the BDO worlds draw - Menzies seems to have a tough one in Conan Whitehead, with a potential game against Finder (formerly Zuiderduin) finalist Jim Williams to follow. Durrant's section looks fine. Mitchell against Labanauskas could be a good one, as could Montgomery against Waites. McGeeney against Adams continues to stack big names up against each other, with the winner to face either James Hurrell, Joe Chaney or a resurgent Danny Noppert who's just remembered to win titles. Harms doesn't have a bad draw, Warren followed by Mandigers or Kenny doesn't seem overly tricky. Hughes should have enough to beat anyone in his path before the quarter finals, which may see him face either Geert de Vos or Richard Veenstra, neither of which will be trivial. Annoyingly there doesn't seem to be much of a report on the BDO site, and that which there is looks truly horrible, but there's some videos on Youtube so I may look back and put stats together for the knockout stages in due course.

WC Preview Part 15 - Please can a seed go out so I don't have to analyse Norris/Huybrechts?

Alan Norris (2/7) v Kim Viljanen (7/2)

Norris holds set on throw - 52.87%
Viljanen holds set on throw - 63.36%

I don't want to look at that second round match for two reasons - Huybrechts is a player that has great stats but keeps losing, whereas Norris is a player that has weaker stats, is all over the place in Europe, but on TV keeps winning. Let's look at the Norris game first, where Alan's defending quarter final money. He kicked off pretty well - two good runs in UK Open qualifiers, beating Cross and Gurney in the run to the quarter final, and beating Bunting, White and Kyle Anderson in the semi final effort. That got him into round 3 of the UK Open, where he dispatched Yordi Meeuwisse with little trouble, Benito van de Pas and Michael Smith could only manage five and six legs respectively, while Kim Huybrechts pushed him all the way to 10-9. He should have made the final - at 9-9 against Price he is on 40 to break the Price throw and then throw for the match, and he proceeds to lose 11-9. Just before the UK Open, Norris got the only ranking win of the season in the first Players Championship event, getting Cross first round, then comfortable opponents before back to back Aussies in Anderson and Whitlock from the quarter final stage before defeating surprise package Peter Jacques 6-1 in the final. Norris would add a semi final and two quarter finals in Players Championship events before the Matchplay, where wins over Kim Huybrechts (again) and Dave Chisnall in overtime got him to the quarter final stage, leaving it a bit too late to start a comeback against Adrian Lewis. Throughout this time, he's been seeded for all the European Tour events, but done relatively badly - playing every event, he's gone out at the first hurdle six times (and got no order of merit points as a result), and then been one win and done on every other occasion. He'd pick up one win at each of the Grand Prix and European Championships, beating Pipe but losing to Henderson, then beating King but not winning a leg against Simon Whitlock. Norris qualified for the Grand Slam as a wildcard but got a group of death with Durrant, Wright and Cadby, only picking up the one win over the Aussie in a decider. Most recently he lost in an opening game to Jelle Klaasen at Minehead.

Viljanen is having a fourth stab here - he got van Gerwen after beating a Canadian qualifier last time out, beat Sven Groen in a prelim before losing 3-0 to Kevin Painter the year before, and the year before that he lost in a prelim to German qualifier Sascha Stein. Viljanen topped the SDC order of merit by some distance, having a world championship berth locked up before the final weekend of play, and in all he won seven out of the ten SDC events, quite an impressive run on a regional level. With the SDC also having a qualifying spot for European Tour events, we've been able to see Viljanen play on a big stage a couple of times. The notable run was in Austria, where he got all the way to the quarter final, having edged fellow regional qualifier Ratajski in the opening round, then Peter Wright again 6-5, before cruising to a 6-2 win over Chris Dobey in the last sixteen. Joe Cullen put him out 6-4 in the quarter finals, but it showed somewhat of what Viljanen could do on his day. The other event he made was the very next weekend in Leverkusen, where he went out 6-3 to Mervyn King in the opening round.

We've seen enough of the Scandinavian players to know the sort of standard they're capable of playing. Norris, on his game, should be better than that, but if he starts messing about with missing doubles or hitting a few random visits without trebles, then Viljanen has more than enough to be waiting to pinch legs, and if he plays as he did in Vienna, where he was clocking off plenty of legs in fifteen darts, he could deny Norris too many attempts to break. Norris is only just above 50% on all legs won in fifteen darts himself, and isn't up in double figures percentage wise for twelve dart legs, so even if Viljanen has a few legs on throw where he would need a sixth visit to check out, it's not a given Norris will be there. Could be an interesting tie.

Kim Huybrechts (1/3) v James Richardson (18/5)

Huybrechts is a weird one to call. His speed of killing in four or five legs is for all intents and purposes the same as Peter Wright's. The problem comes in that he doesn't do that often enough and there's lots and lots of legs where he just lets the other guy win. This year has been generally disappointing, outside of the UK Open, where as we mentioned earlier he went out to Alan Norris in the quarters - he lost at the first stage in every other major - Norris at the Matchplay, Thornton at the Grand Prix, didn't make the Slam (wasn't expecting to make two Sven Groen references in this whole series of writeups, let alone in one section, but there you go) and was dumped out of Minehead by Chris Dobey. He's normally good for at least one ranking win in a season, but hasn't got close that often - two finals, one in Riesa where he took Wright to a deciding leg but would have needed a nine darter to claim it, and one on the Pro Tour way back in April, where he lost to Daryl Gurney having beaten Wattimena, Wright, Wade in a whitewash and James Richardson. Only one other European semi final is a bit surprising, but when you lose your opening game six times it does limit your chances of doing so, and only adding two semis and two quarters in the Players Championship series is possibly below par - half the time he didn't even make the board final.

Richardson is a player most people know for shocking Raymond van Barneveld 3-0 in 2012, and will be looking for this to be a revenge game, as it was Huybrechts who knocked him out 4-1 in the following round. He did return the following year and lost 3-1 in sets to Andy Hamilton in the first round, but it's his first appearance since then and is making his way back after a couple of quiet years, reaching the stage where he did briefly lose his tour card. This season is somewhat similar to last season, where he did most of his best work in Europe - last year he qualified for the European Championship and beat Caven before going out to Kyle Anderson, and would repeat that feat this year, except without the beating Caven bit, as he drew a slightly harder opponent in Simon Whitlock and fell 6-3. Qualifying for six out of twelve events is a decent return, and he finished with an exact 6-6 record on the European stage, mostly just winning the opening game and then losing to a seed, breaking onto the Sunday in Leverkusen where he edged out Benito van de Pas before going out to Dave Chisnall. He did make the UK Open (only just, must have been on countback), and fought past Alcinas and amateur qualifier Neil Smith to make the money, and got eventual winner Peter Wright immediately to end his run. The Players Championship has been a bit disappointing with just the three board wins and one quarter final, but there was enough there to make Minehead, where he had a dart to knock out Robert Thornton but couldn't take it.

Huybrechts if he plays his best darts wins, but as stated, it's a case of actually doing it, which he doesn't do that often. Kim does at least have a 5-0 record against Richardson, but their two matches this season finished 6-5 and 6-4, while Richardson has shown his best form over the last couple of seasons on bigger stages, so this is certainly not a gimmie.

WC Preview Part 14 - Cullen's on fire, van de Pas is terrified

Benito van de Pas (5/8) v Steve West (6/4)

van de Pas holds set on throw - 59.83%
West holds set on throw - 52.84%

Last season, Benito van de Pas was in peak form, winning three Players Championship events, putting up a great display against Gary Anderson in the worlds, and many felt that it was only somewhat mediocre TV form that had kept him out of the Premier League. This season looked to be one where he could really try to push on into the top 10, but it's not happened. He's been disappointing in almost every event he's played in, with a couple of minor exceptions - he looked really on point in the Grand Prix, running over Cristo Reyes and Gerwyn Price, the Price match in particular being amazing, averaging 95 in double start, before the wheels would come off against eventual finalist Simon Whitlock. Benito has also done OK in Europe, where he reached one final in Saarbrücken, only losing by the odd leg in eleven against Peter Wright having beaten Rob Cross and Ian White (who had beaten van Gerwen for the loss of just one leg earlier in the evening), and having a solid run in Mannheim to the semi final, where this time Rob Cross would come out the victor. Apart from that it's been mediocre - 10 Pro Tour events where he lost in the first round, getting an easy round 3 UK Open draw in Matthew Dennant before losing to Alan Norris, losing in overtime to Daryl Gurney in Blackpool, needing a deciding leg in Hasselt to eliminate van der Voort before losing in the same way to Michael Smith, not qualifying for the Grand Slam, then losing in the first round at Minehead to Stephen Bunting. As a bonus, he entered the world youth as the number 1 seed and lost in the first round to Jeffrey de Zwaan.

West broke through on the back of some good floor results last season and has consolidated well, not quite enough to reach the top 32 although he's not far off, but playing well enough to comfortably reach the big majors that work off the Pro Tour rankings. His UK Open qualification attempt was a disaster, as he didn't pick up a single cash, but quickly turned that round in the Players Championship weekends that bookended the main event with three board wins and a board final defeat, two of which he turned into a quarter final and a semi final, the latter seeing wins over Chisnall and Smith before losing a deciding leg to Mervyn King. He'd pick up a second semi final the following month, which was mostly a favourable draw special, and had his best European Tour run the week later, reaching the last 16 in Sindelfingen with wins over Chris Dobey and Michael Smith. That'd be the peak of his European adventures, he was still seeded for some but a first match exit hurt his chances of making Hasselt, and he eventually failed to make that event. The other majors were alright - he won his opening game at Blackpool with a great display against Michael Smith before Darren Webster turned him over, and was able to eliminate James Wade from the Grand Prix before getting rolled by Mensur Suljovic. He couldn't do much at Minehead with his seeding giving him a second round draw against Michael van Gerwen, but at least he got there.

West has done some of his best work on TV, with a high percentage of four visit kills showing how he can be dangerous on that level. This is an important game for Benito, there's nobody in this section he cannot beat and he is perfectly capable of getting through to a fourth straight last sixteen appearance, which would be a projected rematch against Gary Anderson, but he's got to do it still. In his favour is that West has never won a match at the world championship (either here or Lakeside), and while it shouldn't, it may play on his mind psychologically, particularly given he really should have beat Mervyn King last season.

Joe Cullen (2/5) v Jermaine Wattimena (11/5)

Cullen holds set on throw - 75.74%
Wattimena holds set on throw - 36.20%

Cullen's had an outstanding season, following last year where he finally broke his world championship duck in a first round highlight slugfest against Corey Cadby. He's not quite got the TV game to match his greatly improved floor game yet, but it's coming, and he's one of numerous players that could have an outside shot of the Premier League with a good run here. Joe had a bit of a sluggish start to UK Open qualification, but just got enough on the last day to make round 3 automatically. From there he crushed Thornton and easily dispatched Reyes, before taking Kim Huybrechts to a deciding leg. The key breakthrough would come a month later, where in Barnsley he got his first ranking win - he didn't face an FRH top 20 until the final against Daryl Gurney, himself fresh off a first ranking win, but held his nerve in a deciding leg to get over the line 6-5. This helped him to lock down a high enough Pro Tour ranking to get seeded for all the European events, where he's had a great record - only losing in round two twice and pushing on to the final session on five occasions, not quite being able to make a final, losing out to Michael Smith and Kim Huybrechts in two semi finals. On the floor domestically, he would add a second title in the run up to Blackpool, beating surprise package Zoran Lerchbacher in the final having earlier eliminated Gurney in the semis and Benito van de Pas in the last sixteen, but drew Barney at Blackpool and held his own for long periods before falling 10-8. Cullen did get a TV win over Darren Webster in Dublin, but lost to Daryl Gurney in the second round where it looked like he was going to rage quit, stopping himself from chucking a dart away as he fell to a two set disadvantage. He was seeded in the European Championship, showing how well he has done on that circuit, but lost a deciding leg to Stephen Bunting in round one, only able to leave 130 after twelve which had no chance following a bounceout. The last two majors would be a double disappointment, not making the Grand Slam through his Pro Tour wins and losing to Steve Lennon in the final round of qualifying, and then lost to Jamie Caven out of nowhere in the opening round of the Players Championship finals.

Wattimena's here for a fourth time having yet to make it to round two, previously losing to Gurney, Suljovic and Marijanovic (in a prelim) but winning a set in each of the two first round events, so this is possibly his best chance yet, although he is facing a player on a big upward trend for the third straight year. Jermaine's one of a few European players that have been hanging around outside the top 32, not quite being able to push through further, but there are signs that it could be coming - he won three games at the UK Open, putting out Kyle Anderson in the opening money round before running Michael Smith close in a 10-8 reverse, and has had overall better floor form with three Players Championship semi finals, two of them in the last three weekends so they should give him a good start for next season's Matchplay qualification. He maybe could have done more in Europe - only qualifying for five events and not being able to make Sunday once, falling to van Gerwen having beaten Bernd Roith, Dirk van Duijvenbode, Steffen Siepmann, Ian White having beaten Michael Plooy, and Michael Smith having beaten Mick Todd. He was able to put in a good showing at the Players Championship Finals, eliminating Keegan Brown in what was clocked at about ten minutes 6-0, seeing off the conqueror of Gary Anderson, Michael Mansell, in round two, before pushing Steve Beaton all the way to a deciding leg, bowing out 10-9 at the last sixteen stage.

Cullen's numbers are all round better, clocking up a respectable 14% of legs won in four visits, and is easily outperforming Wattimena in legs won in five visits, pushing over 65% while Jermaine's barely over 50%. The confidence he's gained on the floor this year should serve him well, but he's shown frustration on occasion when he's not playing as he knows he can, and can easily throw in three-four visits without a treble and cost himself legs, which Wattimena could pounce on. Don't think this'll be 3-0, but do think it'd be a case of Cullen losing it rather than Jermaine upping his level and claiming it himself if it was to be an upset win for the Dutchman.

WC Preview Part 13 - Danger, danger! Bad walk on music!

Michael Smith (2/5) v Steve Lennon (23/10)

Smith holds set on throw - 61.14%
Lennon holds set on throw - 52.33%

Smith's had an up and down season, with the one big highlight being the breaking of the duopoly that Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen had on the European Tour titles, claiming the win in Gibraltar with a series of incredibly nail biting victories over Christian Kist, Dimitri van den Bergh, Rob Cross, Peter Wright and Mensur Suljovic, every single one (except the final, which was 6-4) going to a deciding leg. Some bottle. His early season on the floor was very good, with five quarter finals (three in UK Open qualifiers, one of those seeing him get to the final with a good scalp list of Lewis, Wade, Reyes and White) before the UK Open, where he got to the last sixteen and went out to Alan Norris. His European form, Gibraltar win aside, was excellent with seven excursions into the final session, nearly adding a second title in Vienna, but having the throw in a deciding leg, he saw van Gerwen finish in twelve darts when it mattered the most, waiting on a two darter for the championship. TV's been hit and miss, he ran into an inspired Steve West in Blackpool in the opening round, lost a deciding set to Gerwyn Price in Dublin despite having the throw, while in Hasselt he reached the quarter finals, beating Nathan Aspinall and Benito van de Pas before Rob Cross proved to be too strong. His Gibraltar win got him into the Grand Slam as the last automatic qualifier, and safely navigated a dangerous looking group containing Mensur Suljovic, Mark McGeeney and James Wilson, but only finishing second put him up against Gary Anderson in the last 16, resulting in a 10-6 loss. The last time we saw him, he was a surprising first round exit in Minehead to Jan Dekker, and it's those sorts of results, as well as not really punching through to the quarter final stages or later of TV events when he gets going, that are keeping him out of the official top 10 and real Premier League contention.

Lennon's a new face on the scene who after two good runs in the opening two days of Q-School (losing to Prakash Jiwa in the final round on day one and Maik Langendorf in the penultimate round on day two), claimed his card outright on day three. This level of solid runs on three straight days indicated he might be useful on the floor, and while it took him a while to get going properly, only doing enough to make the early rounds of the UK Open where he went out to Willie O'Connor, once he did he was able to clock up enough money to sneak in to Ally Pally as one of the last Pro Tour qualifiers. The first big run was in event seven to the quarters, knocking out Ian White along the way and perhaps unfortunate to lose a deciding leg to Daryl Gurney, and in mid season he'd tack on four board victories before getting back to the quarter final stage on home soil, beating West and Bunting before again possibly having the chance to go further, missing out on a semi final by losing 6-5 to Antonio Alcinas. He's added on five grand in Europe, getting to four events but only managing the one stage win, over Simon Stevenson in Riesa. Critically, he was able to qualify for the Grand Slam through the wildcard qualifier, a hat trick of wins over van den Bergh, Beaton and Cullen getting him there, and gained some good stage experience, only picking up the one win 5-0 over Jamie Hughes, but that was enough to see him move through to the last 16 on leg difference where van Gerwen ran out an easy 10-3 winner. He did enough to make the Players Championship Finals, but after beating Zoran Lerchbacher he went out to Rob Cross in round two.

I think this might be a bit too soon for Lennon - his numbers indicate he can play, and if Smith doesn't hit the ground running Lennon should be able to cause a bit of nervousness, but I get the feeling that he's not quite got to the level where he can truly move his floor game to the stage. It's a big opportunity for Smith, the draw is probably the toughest for a top 16 seed in the second round, but the quarter as a whole, while stacked, doesn't have any top 4 powerhouses.

Rob Cross (1/25) v Seigo Asada or Gordon Mathers (28/1, Asada 7/5, Mathers 4/6 to advance)

Cross to hold set on throw - 87.84%
Asada to hold set on throw - 21.76% (no data on Mathers)

Possibly the most disappointing element of Rob Cross' season is the awful choice of nickname and walk on music. Voltage? Really? And if you're going to go with Electric Six, you pick Gay Bar, it's that simple. Other than that, Cross has had the best debut season of all time to the point where regardless of what happens here, it's going to be extremely difficult to leave him out of the Premier League. Everyone knew that when he won the Challenge Tour in 2016, he'd probably be able to turn that into a solid career, we all saw glimpses of what he could do in the UK Open and realised that, if he attacked the tour properly, he could become much more than that guy van Gerwen threw eighteen perfect darts against. It took him a little while to get properly going, making the money in every UK Open qualifier but only going really deep once, and when he got to the UK Open itself he'd be stopped by Peter Wright in the last sixteen, but from that point on it's basically been "try and stop me". Next event, he wins, beating Norris, Barney, Price and King along the way. The next month starts a run of three straight European Tour quarter finals. Cross would then slot in four straight Pro Tour semi final appearances, turning one into a win. Already with enough to reach the Matchplay, he'd beat Ian White before giving Adrian Lewis a run for his money in the last sixteen. September onwards would see him really hit the gas - reaching a first European final and only the world number one could deny him, winning a third Pro Tour event just before the Grand Prix, which would be his only real hiccup, a one sided first round defeat to Steve Beaton, and then claiming the fourth Players Championship title of the season in the final weekend to see him lead that ranking at the end of the season. Another European Tour final loss to van Gerwen (who, I should mention, he has beaten this year in Leverkusen) would end things before the TV run. A final in the European Championship would get him to the Grand Slam, again denied by van Gerwen but with some excellent displays along the way, the week after van Gerwen would knock him out at the quarter final stage of the World Series finals, in the Grand Slam he'd finish second in the van Gerwen group and rematch at the quarter finals, a 16-13 defeat showing how close he is getting, and it looked all set for another matchup in Minehead, but Jonny Clayton was able to pull off the shock at the semi final stage. It's not unrealistic to say that van Gerwen may be the only player who could stop Cross here.

Asada makes his PDC debut having previously appeared at Lakeside for the last three years - losing in the prelims to Jeff Smith last year and Brian Dawson in 2015, but in 2016 he did beat rumoured PDC switcher Darius Labanauskas before taking Wesley Harms to a deciding set in the first round proper. Like many on the Asian circuits, he mixes soft tip and steel tip, making the semi final of the Japanese Dartslive event in August, while he's also cleaned up in the Japan Open five out of the last six years. He made it here by winning through the PDC Japanese qualifier, which in the past has brought us Haruki Muramatsu, the late Morihiro Hashimoto, and in the last couple of seasons we've had Keita Ono and Masumi Chino. None of them have been awful, usually coming through the prelim but often getting really hard draws (Ono got Taylor, Hashimoto's last effort saw him get Smith in the year Smith was playing well enough to beat Taylor, and Anderson the time before that, Muramatsu drew Whitlock and Taylor in his last two attempts) so it's hard to gauge their strength. There wasn't a World Series event in Japan this year to look at (or, if there was, it's been very well hidden), but Asada lost 6-1 to Gary Anderson in 2016 averaging 77, so there's that.

Mathers has made it here by topping the DPA ranking chart, an increasingly strong series where Corey Cadby was only able to finish third, with Rhys Mathewson not quite being able to get over the line in the last couple of events. The top ten of that tour also includes the likes of Tic Bridge, Koha Kokiri and Cody Harris, none of whom have seemed like mugs when seen on TV. Mathers won three events on the circuit, a weekend double with final wins over Cadby and Kokiri in Western Australia in early April, adding the last one over Cadby again in Queensland in May. We've yet to see him on the World Series tour, not qualifying or being invited to any of the relevant events in the area, so it's tough to gauge any sort of stage form for him either.

The prelim seems like it should be close, and both players should be treating this as a final, as neither is going to get remotely close to Cross on current form.

WC Preview Part 12 - Two more world champions! Three if you count the youth worlds! And someone who Wikipedia thinks might be a sailor!

Jelle Klaasen (8/15) v Jan Dekker (2/1)

Klaasen holds set on throw - 61.16%
Dekker holds set on throw - 52.57%

A potentially quite close all-Dutch tie first up, and we'll start by looking at the 2006 (yes, twelve years ago) Lakeside champion, Jelle Klaasen. I think the first thing to note is his impressive European form, reaching a final where he lost to Michael van Gerwen, three more semi finals and the Sunday on a further four occasions, some decent consistency there given that for a lot of the early ones, he was working through a wrist injury that inhibited his game quite a bit, most notably in the Premier League where he couldn't get out of the bottom two. He was doing OK in the floor events early, claiming three board wins in UK Open qualifiers and getting a best Players Championship run of a semi final in the week before the UK Open, knocking off Barney in the quarters, but at the UK Open itself he was only able to get the one win over Jonny Clayton, losing out in a decider to Vincent van der Voort in the following round. Elsewhere on TV hasn't been too kind, he wouldn't have expected to lose to Justin Pipe at Blackpool, drew Dave Chisnall in Dublin and lost in straight sets, lost out to Robbie Green in qualifying for the Grand Slam, got a free win against Kist in Hasselt before losing to Kyle Anderson, and while he could get through Alan Norris in Minehead, he couldn't do the same against Steve Beaton. Most of those games are ones that he should be winning, so it's not surprising that his FRH ranking has dropped out of the top 16 coming into an event where he's defending a semi final prize.

Dekker's still well the right side of 30 but seems a veteran of the game, such is the age that the Dutch players come through at, and he's making his second appearance on the PDC world stage, and will look to do better than two years ago where he lost in straight sets to Adrian Lewis. Dekker was able to get enough to qualify for the UK Open in the opening weekend, but couldn't add a penny to it in the second, so needed to beat Challenge/Development Tour player Rob Hewson to make the money, and couldn't. The rest of his season has been extremely hit and miss - while he's gone out in the first round in the Players Championship events on fourteen occasions, he won his board four times on the times he didn't, with a peak run of a semi final in April, knocking out Cullen and Chisnall before not winning a leg against Michael van Gerwen. It's similar in Europe, he didn't qualify for eight of the events, but won through to the Saturday in the four that he made, the Sunday in three of them, and a quarter final in Sindelfingen, only going out to eventual winner Peter Wright on that occasion. Those European runs got him to Hasselt, but he drew Michael van Gerwen in the opening round, who would also defeat Dekker in the other major he played, the Players Championship Finals - but there it would be a lot closer, as Dekker kept things incredibly close in the quarter final with nothing separating the players after fourteen legs, before van Gerwen held/broke/held to claim the win. That pushed Dekker up the rankings nicely, wins over Smith, Whitlock and Jacques giving him his biggest payday since the BDO semi final four years ago.

The stats look quite even, and it will come down to Klaasen's ability to produce - if he throws his best darts for long enough then Dekker shouldn't be able to keep up, but that's a big if - he scores better when he's winning legs than Dekker does, but worse when he's losing legs to the extent that Dekker's actually averaging more per turn overall. Dekker turning the form on at the right time might lean me to taking the outsider here.

Stephen Bunting (3/4) v Dimitri van den Bergh (13/10)

Bunting holds set on throw - 64.92%
van den Bergh holds set on throw - 50.91%

It's been another year in the struggle for Bunting to regain the form he showed straight after switching in what's widely been dubbed the second best debut season ever (copyright all Rob Cross appreciation minute producers), but of recent he's started to show small signs that he's going in the right direction. It wasn't that way early on, he couldn't get enough in the bank to make the money directly in the UK Open, drew Mark Webster, and then lost. It would also take him an incredibly long time to win a board on the floor - winning only five grand in the opening eight Pro Tour weekends. He has been able to pick it up pretty much since the Matchplay where he got the toughest draw of all, the weekend after he made a quarter final and a semi final on the floor, and next up in Ireland he'll win his board on the Friday and make the final on the Saturday, although his draw was a bit fortunate in that the best player he faced before losing to Suljovic in the final was Ian White. On TV he's had mixed results - if we look at Europe first, he's been in and out of the seeds, and has been solid in making the final day, but only managed to push through into the evening session once out of seven chances, although he drew van Gerwen once, Suljovic another and Wright the other four times in fairness. He also drew Peter Wright in Dublin, but would miss two match darts and then lose the deciding leg, but the last three majors he's at least got wins, beating Cullen before losing to Gurney in Hasselt, then in Wolverhampton, after getting through the wildcard qualifiers, he swept a group containing Chisnall, Mitchell and de Zwaan before running into Peter Wright yet again in the last 16, and last up at Minehead he beat van de Pas and Suljovic before falling to surprise package Jonny Clayton.

Dimitri's here on the back of winning the world youth championship, with wins in the quarters onwards over PDPA qualifier winner Ted Evetts, Development Tour winner Luke Humphries (Humphries claiming that thanks to his nearest challenger playing an exhibition in Glasgow in the final weekend, one D. van den Bergh) and former worlds challenger Josh Payne. He would have got a slot here due to that, but has qualified outright from the Pro Tour. He's not done particularly well in domestic floor events, only winning a board twice and not finishing high enough to make the Players Championship Finals, but Europe is a different matter, where he qualified for eight events, reaching the final day three times through beating seeds Norris, Wade and Whitlock. That cash was enough to see him comfortably qualify for Hasselt, where he got a great draw against one of the last men in the field in Jonny Clayton, but could only win the one leg. As stated, he's still playing the Development Tour and has gained about as much match experience as anyone in the last couple of years, and he won three of those events this year, taking his career total to nine, and added on another two finals to that record. He also was able to qualify for the World Series of Darts final, and had probably his best TV run, beating Michael Smith and Raymond van Barneveld to reach the quarter finals, where he couldn't get it done against James Wade.

The bookies have this as quite even, and it's hard to call - Bunting's stats are looking slightly better in most categories, both players' form is trending in the right direction, it'll be hard to separate them and could come down to a deciding set. I can't see any value in this one really.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

WC Preview Part 11 - Rise of the Machines? Return of the King? Back in Training? Or the Final Insult?

James Wade (2/9) v Keegan Brown (4/1)

Wade holds set on throw - 55.01%
Brown holds set on throw - 58.68%

James Wade has just managed to slip outside the top 10 for the first time in god knows how long, but it's a big question as to how it's not happened sooner. Look at those stats. He's won 107 legs in my database, of which only nine were in twelve darts or less, and easily less than half were in fifteen darts or less. That's really quite a mediocre standard, and indicates at least to me reasons why Wade's form has dropped off. It basically hasn't - Wade's much the same as he always has been - pretty consistent (there's little difference between his winning and losing average), gets some legs quickly enough, and if you give him six visits to clean up, he'll usually manage it. The problem is everyone else - there's so many players that will not allow him to finish in six visits that he can't just get the legs that the commentators will say that he stole, or comment that's where he's good, and he simply cannot increase his scoring power to handle the modern game. It may get him the occasional good run, as he had in the last UK Open qualifier where he beat Cross and then Anderson in a decider in early rounds before losing a decider to Peter Wright, but over longer distances it's not going to work often enough. He was unfortunate to draw Adrian Lewis in the UK Open, that's fair enough, but he threw away a winning position in the Matchplay against Darren Webster. He crashed out to Steve West in Dublin. He didn't make Hasselt despite a great start in Jena where he made the semi finals with wins over Thornton, Price and Wright, primarily due to the change where seeds get zero credit for a second round loss - exits to Mark Webster, Dimitri van den Bergh and Darren Johnson, coupled with mediocre floor form relatively speaking saw him needing to qualify, and while he managed that a couple of times, didn't do much once he could get there. He was in the Grand Slam as defending finalist, but only advanced due to Taylor inexplicably punting the final group game for a second straight year and then got annihilated in the first knockout round by Daryl Gurney. At Minehead, Painter and then Caven weren't a tough combination, and while a win against Ian White is fine at this stage he was quickly found out against Rob Cross. This is an important statement event for Wade, he needs to get to Taylor at least.

Keegan's back here after a year's absence, and it's good to see given the number of younger players that shine for a short while and then disappear from the scene. This year he just got into the UK Open, a last 32 run in the third qualifier being enough, but drew Paul Hogan in the first round which was unfortunate. His form at the back end of 2016 was so indifferent that making majors was unrealistic outside of miracle runs, so it was a case of gradual rebuilding from there. He kicked off with a board win in the first Players Championship event, but it wasn't until later in the season where he started to regain some form. He did get into Sindelfingen and beat Jeffrey de Graaf before meeting Michael van Gerwen, but it was from July onwards where he got going - a quarter final in the last event before the Matchplay was followed by a solid weekend first up afterwards, with double qualification for Europe and two board finals, giving him confidence to get to the seeds in both of the European events (Gurney and White, both losses), then in October he made Göttingen, hit a quarter final on the floor before then, and made the Sunday of that European event by whitewashing Benito van de Pas (giving him a game against Rob Cross). He was one game off making the Grand Slam, but at Minehead he suffered a freak 6-0 defeat in the first round to Jermaine Wattimena.

Keegan's back trending up and seems like the sort of player that will thrive on the stage experience. Wade could be in for a tough one here, unless there's some sort of unknown issue that I've missed in relation to Keegan's Players Championship loss, then I can't see how, at 4/1, it isn't a great underdog punt.

Mervyn King (2/7) v Zoran Lerchbacher (7/2)

King holds set on throw - 82.25%
Lerchbacher holds set on throw - 28.07%

Mervyn's had what seems to be a somewhat typical season - doing decent work on the floor, but not really being able to convert it through to the TV stage. Look at that UK Open qualification - some good runs, no obvious errors, gets to Minehead, loses to Alan Tabern. Makes the final of a Pro Tour event the week later, can't get over the line against Rob Cross. Very consistent in qualifying (or being a lower seed) in Europe, but apart from where he was seeded in Austria and beat his opponent here and then Suljovic, and the week later where he was able to make the final coming over White, Petersen, Cross and Smith, he's not been able to push through to the latter stages too often. His floor form has dropped whereby since April he's not gone beyond a plain board win at all, and on TV he's gone out round one to Chisnall in Blackpool, round two to Peter Wright in Dublin after a decent draw against Ronny Huybrechts, out round one to Alan Norris in Hasselt and then edged out Dolan in Minehead before losing to Darren Webster. The averages and general stats are still pretty good, and should lead to him converting more chances - for whatever reason, it's just not happening.

Lerchbacher is here for a third time, having come through in form PDPA qualifier Simon Stevenson last year before not being able to convert against Robert Thornton, and previously in 2014 he beat domestic qualifier Ben Ward in a prelim before being the first of Michael van Gerwen's victims en route to the title, although, not that it counts for anything, he did win the averages. This year, he's not come through a regional qualifier, instead qualifying by right through the Pro Tour rankings, which, outside of an amazing run in Barnsley in July where he made a final, beating Tony Newell (6-5), Robert Owen (6-5), Mark Webster, Robert Thornton (6-5), Keegan Brown and Steve Beaton (6-5), losing to Cullen in the final, it's been mostly a case of being consistent and taking what's given. His numbers are nothing to write home about and he always has the impression of being a steady mid-80 average plodder with the occasional note of brilliance. He does not own a tour card, but made the last 32 twice and the last 64 once in Q-School, which gave him enough points to play a good chunk of the tour, and while he's crashed out in round one on ten occasions, he's got enough on top of that final to get in here. The European circuit has been kind enough in terms of qualification, but of seven attempts on the main stage, he's only managed two wins over Ricky Evans and Lee Bryant - giving him matches against seeds. One was MvG, what can you do. The other was against Mervyn King, and he lost 6-2.

King should have the class here. Lerchbacher's an awkward opponent, and if you're playing badly he's not going to mess up his chances that often, but over a three set match I can't see King offering up enough that Zoran's able to get through to the second round.

WC Preview Part 10 - Caution - (Demolition) Men at Work

Simon Whitlock (4/13) v Martin Schindler (3/1)

Whitlock holds set on throw - 71.91%
Schindler holds set on throw - 42.20%

This season started out having the potential to be the best ever for Whitlock, with the general opinion among the darting cognoscenti just two months ago being that he was all but locked into a Premier League return, but a poor couple of months since then and it's looking a lot more shaky than it seemed. His kickoff was great, winning two out of the six UK Open qualifiers, finishing one off with wins over Wright, White, Chisnall and Gary Anderson, the other having a bit of an easier run, with a toughest opponent of Rob Cross before he really started cooking on gas. He'd get to the quarters of the main event, having first tacked on a Pro Tour semi final in the opening event of that season, but Daryl Gurney was able to hold his own in a deciding leg. Simon would quickly append another ranking title on the floor the week later, seeing off Gary Anderson, Kim Huybrechts and surprise finalist Darren Johnson (who'd just knocked off MvG in the semi), and would add what'd be the first of three European semi finals the month after. The Matchplay went about as well as it could given he was the 16th seed, and hence got van Gerwen in the second round, but it was the Grand Prix where he peaked, reaching the final with wins over Kist (dodging a match dart though), North, an in form van de Pas, then beatin Suljovic in the last set of the semi final. In the final against Gurney he got that far again, but his game went to pieces, needing far too many darts to get away in the first three legs, then at 2-1 down he did get away second dart on throw, but four visits without a treble allowed Gurney to set up tops before he could even leave a finish and we all know what happened then. He did well in the European Championship, beating Richardson and then winning ten legs unanswered against Alan Norris before running into MvG yet again, but would finish bottom of his group which included a kid with dartitis and the de facto last BDO qualifier, and then after taking the free win against Christian Kist in Minehead, lost the very next round to Jan Dekker. He could still make the Premier League but really needs to make the last 16 here you'd feel.

Schindler has now, in the FRH rankings, overtaken Max Hopp to become Germany's number 1 player, a remarkable rise for the 21 year old, obviously helped by Hopp doing absolutely nothing all year, but still, nice work. Winning his tour card on the final day of play, Schindler had a fairly slow start to the year, not qualifying for the UK Open, but he did get an early first board win on the Pro Tour, beating Ian White and Ronny Huybrechts before losing to Mervyn King, but from then he'd start a run doing what's got him here (and why Hopp isn't) - not messing up the European qualifiers. Hardly ever. The German ones are probably the easiest but you still need to go out and win them, and he did, 10 times out of 12, only missing Jena and Sindelfingen (i.e. he won through the European qualifiers when needed outside of Germany every time) to surprise domestic defeats. Once there more often than not he's lost in the first round, but it all helps to gain stage experience, and he's managed to reach Sunday twice - in Maastricht he beat Gerwyn Price, while in Vienna he beat Ian White and surprise package Jamie Bain. He also played in the World Cup, reaching the quarters with Hopp and giving van Gerwen a minor scare, grabbing a 2-0 lead in a race to four to leave very little margin for error. The European consistency saw him qualify for Hasselt, but he drew Rob Cross and lost 6-0, while he was also able to make the quarter finals of the world youth championship, where he lost to Development Tour winner Luke Humphries (a tour that Schindler plays and has won on this year - a tough run including wins over Rowby John Rodriguez, Kenny Neyens, Steve Lennon and Justin van Tergouw).

Two months ago this would be an obvious Whitlock win. It probably still is, as while Schindler's gained a lot of experience, the first time at the worlds will still be somewhat daunting (although the Germans usually travel in numbers so he should have some support). That said, Whitlock's been stalling a little bit, and if he's not on his game, Martin's got enough to be able to capitalise. The first set could be crucial in this one, particularly if Simon was to lose it.

Darren Webster (1/4) v Devon Petersen (7/2)

Webster holds set on throw - 92.01%
Petersen holds set on throw - 8.49%

This season's been one of great consistency and consolidation for the surprise package from the end of last season, as Darren Webster's had an excellent floor season and some TV highlights as well. He made the UK Open comfortably, but in a surprise result he would lose 10-8 to Ronnie Baxter in the first money round, but after a moderately slow Pro Tour start through to late April where he was not doing much at all, he'd then kick into gear, both in the Pro Tour and in the European qualifiers. Looking at the latter first, he made five out of the last eight events, and while he was only able to get the four wins (over Richie Corner, Ryan Meikle, Alan Norris and Luke Woodhouse), it was enough to get him to Hasselt where he drew Ian White and missed two match darts in a 6-5 defeat). On the Pro Tour, from May onwards he went on a remarkable run of winning his board seven times and reaching the board final three more times, capped off of course with a first ranking title in years, being able to beat Alan Norris, Kyle Anderson in a deciding leg and then Daryl Gurney 6-1 to claim the win. This set him up to appear in all of the TV majors (needing to qualify for the Grand Slam but doing so), the Matchplay being the highlight with a quarter final run, beating Wade in overtime having come from behind to level it, outduelling an inspired Steve West before giving Peter Wright a run for his money in a narrow 16-12 turnover. He might have been able to do better in the Grand Prix where he took Joe Cullen to a deciding leg but was always on the backfoot against the darts with Cullen starting perfect, he realistically got what he could out of the Grand Slam, needing a shootout to advance to face Phil Taylor, and in the Players Championship he left little on the table as he got to a last 16 tie with Michael van Gerwen, where there was to be no repeat of last season's potential upset.

Petersen's here on account of being the highest rated African player in the Order of Merit (which I assume is the same as being the lowest rated African player in the Order of Merit unless I'm overlooking someone obscure), an interesting invite to say the least. We've not seen much out of him at all - while he did start well in the very first event, making a last 16 run in a UK Open qualifier beating Kim Huybrechts amongst others, he cashed none of the others and needed to beat Jermaine Wattimena to make the money, which he didn't manage to do. From there, he'd bust out in the opening round in eight out of the first ten Pro Tour events, and while July saw him hit a little bit of form with a run to Sunday in Leverkusen, beating Richard North and Jelle Klaasen, followed by his only Players Championship board win of the season, beating Burnett, McGowan and Rowby John Rodriguez, that'd very much seem to be a blip rather than the expected result, as he'd finish with around a 50/50 record for the rest of the year. A poor season where he didn't do enough to make Minehead, and his great strength from last year, European qualification, disappeared as he went 1 for 12 in qualification attempts, losing out in the final round five times.

Think what you like about Devon's place here, he's here now, but probably won't be for too much longer - he's not played anywhere near well enough all season, and Webster is the type of player that's not going to give him too many chances. Look at the legs that he did win in Leverkusen - only ONE was in fifteen darts or less. That's quite a lot of legs to be effectively gifted, and Darren won't be doing that anywhere near often enough for Petersen to have a realistic chance of moving forwards.

WC Preview Part 9 - Barney army repeat ad infinitum

Raymond van Barneveld (1/6) v Richard North (11/2)

van Barneveld holds set on throw - 84.20%
North holds set on throw - 24.77%

So around this time last season, Barney said he was going to play the tour properly, and a lot of us were thinking "yeah, of course", but to be fair, he was, at least for a while - playing every UK Open qualifier with very consistent results, although he could have taken some further given he went out to Dolan, Kist and Painter in three of them, made the quarters of the main event, losing out in a tight game to eventual champion Peter Wright, then played the first eight Pro Tour events and some of the European qualifiers, reaching four quarter finals. Then April arrived and he just finished off the Premier League and went on the exbo series around the world instead, not playing another ranked event all year except for the majors and two warm up Pro Tour events prior to the Grand Prix. Oh well, at least you tried. Seeded in the same segment of the Matchplay as Taylor meant he couldn't get far, and didn't have it all his own way against Cullen, he would go one round further in Dublin, but with the draw having opened up he surprisingly fell at the quarter final stage to John Henderson. He obviously didn't qualify for Hasselt, but won his Grand Slam group landing him the runner up in the Michael van Gerwen/Rob Cross group and that was that. His early Pro Tour work got him to Minehead, but his low seeding gave him Ian White in the first round, a winnable game but he couldn't nick the deciding leg missing two match darts with White waiting on double. His figures are very good from what data we do have, so he clearly still has it.

North's a surprise package who won his tour card this January at the fourth attempt, getting it outright on day 2 beating Hine, Alcinas and Bain to claim it, and had a flying start, claiming three grand in the UK Open qualifiers including a last 16 run, which wasn't quite enough to make round 3 (and the money) outright and he lost to Ronnie Baxter in round 2. He would grow on people's radars more in April with two quarter finals on the Pro Tour in one weekend, he'd also tack on a few European qualifications, playing four in total, two just before the Matchplay and a couple in September while not really impressing in any of them, but having added on a few more board finals and a couple of board wins on the floor, he'd make a big break through in August, reaching the final of the 18th Pro Tour event, nearly nicking it outright but losing a deciding leg in the final to Dave Chisnall, but it was possibly a bit fortunate - the highest ranked player he faced prior to that was Joe Cullen, but you can only beat what's in front of you I guess. This gave him enough to qualify for the Grand Prix despite not quite having a full year of tour records, and was due to play Gary Anderson, but after he withdrew he was able to get past Mark Webster on short notice, before not getting a set against Whitlock in round two. North's last run out was brief, in Minehead he got past Pete Hudson but then fell to Adrian Lewis.

Barney should have way too much here. North's still getting used to the stage, sure, but he'll need to improve a lot to come close and translate his floor game much better. Over 30 won legs is a decent enough sample and he's not managed a twelve darter yet, and more than half of those took more than five visits to win. Barney won't allow that often enough.

Kyle Anderson (1/4) v Peter Jacques (4/1)

Anderson holds set on throw - 79.27%
Jacques holds set on throw - 32.76%

A big break through year for Kyle Anderson after last season finished in awful circumstances, with visa problems ruling him out of both the worlds and the Players Championship finals. Able to sort it out, he's had three big highlights - he's had his first ranking win in August, claiming it with wins over Tony Newell, Nathan Aspinall, Ryan Meikle, Ronny Huybrechts, Stephen Bunting, Michael Smith and Kevin Painter, hitting a nine dart finish along the way. He also claimed a TV title winning the unranked Auckland Masters a week later, beating Corey Cadby in a deciding leg, and he then came very close to a first proper major final, reaching the semis of the European Championship. He should have gone further - against van Gerwen in a deciding leg, he needed 80 for the match and pinned treble 20 first dart, but couldn't convert either of the next two and Michael stepped in and cleaned 76 out in two darts. What else for him? Making the UK Open was comfortable, but he'll be disappointed to go out to Jermaine Wattimena, had three further first round exits in TV events to Whitlock, van Barneveld and Meulenkamp, but the floor game was solid, making four Sundays in Europe, peaking at a quarter final in Jena including a big win over Mensur Suljovic, and outside of the aforementioned floor win, he won his board on five occasions, pushing on to a quarter and a semi once a piece.

Jacques is a complete wildcard - he played the first three days of Q-School, looking in a good position to get a card having made the last 128, last 16 and last 64 to accumulate good countback points, but the story goes he didn't play day 4 as he had a county game that clashed with it. Oh well. Said points did allow him to get in as a PDPA alternate in quite a few Pro Tour events, and he goes and reaches the final of the first one. OK then. Nicholson, Payne, O'Connor, Gary Anderson, Michael Smith and Wade would fall before Norris had far too much in the final, but this gave him an opportunity to build on the tour. He wouldn't reach those heights again, only winning a board twice more, but it gave him enough in the bank to play every event, and kept chipping away, 500 quid here, a grand there, and along with making the European Tour four times, with a best result in Riesa of the last 16, losing to Jelle Klaasen where he had some chances (at least if I remember rightly, I was drinking a lot at the event) to go further, he's able to claim a Pro Tour ranking spot for here to make a worlds debut which I don't think he'd have seen coming twelve months ago. He did make one major, the Pro Tour solidity getting him to Minehead last month, where he gained some useful stage experience and held his nerve well with last leg wins over Cristo Reyes and Steve Hine (who'd just eliminated Peter Wright) before Jan Dekker had a bit too much class in the last sixteen.

This should be a similar story to the other game in this section, Anderson should have too much. He just finishes legs in too orderly a fashion for Jacques to be able to generate too many break chances. He's going to have to rely on Kyle to take a leg or two off at critical times and stay very tidy on his own throw - unlike North he has at least hit some twelve darters in my sample, so I guess if he can find one of those on the Anderson throw and maybe nick a set, the upset could at least come into the equation.

WC Preview Part 8 - Two beatable seeds against two decent qualifiers, get the popcorn

Dave Chisnall (2/5) v Vincent van der Voort (12/5)

Chisnall holds set on throw - 68.99%
van der Voort holds set on throw - 44.27%

After finally breaking out of the 8/9 spot where he'd always face Michael van Gerwen, he's now slipped back there, somewhat due to Gurney coming through and Taylor hitting some big cash, but it's where Dave is and he's got a real awkward draw before he'd even get to the defending champion. If we ignore that Chisnall has failed to get to a major quarter final since last season's World Championship loss to Gary Anderson, Chisnall's done OK - he's not had any first round losses, in Europe he's not had any real hiccups, apart from in Mannheim where he lost to Nathan Aspinall, he's kept things ticking over solidly on the floor, he's got another ranking title, albeit one where the toughest opponent he faced was Jelle Klaasen, and he's maintained his top 8 status in the world and shown that he can threaten the rest - see in particular the second half of the Premier League, where he would go undefeated after Judgement Night and nearly sneak a top 4 place. But let's look at the major defeats - Peter Wright in the UK Open, fine. Alan Norris in overtime at Blackpool? Probably should win that one. Thornton at the Grand Prix should have been cleaned up. Rob Cross in Hasselt, fine, Glen Durrant at the Grand Slam, yeah, understandable, Willie O'Connor at Minehead, really? None of those seem unwinnable, and they're the sorts of games that Chisnall needs to win in order to push out of the 7-10 bracket, and he's not going to get that elusive major like that - you lose enough when you run into Michael van Gerwen all the time, you can't throw away title equity by dropping chances before you even get to that stage.

Vincent seems to be somewhat free of the back issues that have plagues his career over the past few seasons, and he's playing notably better. Denied a seeding due to Jonny Clayton's last gasp run at Minehead, he comes in second on the Pro Tour rankings and gets a fairly awkward draw as a result. His best major result came early - he did reach the last sixteen of the UK Open, needing to come through a decider against James Wilson to make the money, and from there he had a routine win over Ronny Huybrechts before a tense deciding leg win against Jelle Klaasen. Daryl Gurney would be too much however. From then in the run up to the Matchplay he couldn't hit much form, a string of thirteen Pro Tour events where he only reached the board final twice would see him too far behind to reach either the Matchplay or the Grand Prix. He was able to qualify fairly consistently for European events, and has taken out a few seeds - albeit Benito van de Pas, Mervyn King and Ian White are towards the back of the list of seeds you want on your scalp list. The back end of his Pro Tour season was better, with three quarter finals (including beating van Gerwen in one, snapping a twelve game losing streak against him), but in the TV stakes he had a hat trick of disappointments, losing to Benito van de Pas in the opening game in Hasselt where he had two match darts, losing by the same score to Robbie Green in the opening game at Minehead where he couldn't generate more than 1 match dart given six darts to finish 117, and lost to the same player in the final qualifying round for the Grand Slam.

This is going to come down to a few things - first, consistency. If Dave can hit doubles with any sort of consistency, he wins. If Dave can have fairly few legs of the type where he starts 60-100-59 or something like that, he wins. If not, and if Vincent can be in a state where he's healthy and able to keep up with the scoring as he can, he stands a chance. It'll need a few things to click together correctly, but it's perfectly possible.

Steve Beaton (4/7) v Willie O'Connor (13/8)

Beaton holds set on throw - 64.44%
O'Connor holds set on throw - 49.22%

Your 1996 World Champion (1996! There's players here that weren't even born then!) needs no introduction, but let's look at his season. And it's really quite good. The UK Open qualifiers were great to him, with three quarter finals and a last sixteen run, beating van Gerwen in one and needing Wright (twice) and Chisnall (in a decider) to stop him in those quarters. The main event would see him surprisingly lose to Dave Pallett, but continued good form on the floor would see him safely qualify for the Matchplay - the peak of which was a Pro Tour win in June, beating Chisnall, Gurney and Anderson with some sensational throwing. The Matchplay himself would see him run into Adrian Lewis with both playing well in a good game, and before the next major he'd have a European final run - facing van Gerwen in the Netherlands is never going to end well, but he came through both Wright and Suljovic in earlier rounds, banking ten grand that should see him pretty safe for at least next season's Matchplay. He got a tough draw in Dublin in Rob Cross, but Cross wasn't playing well for about the only time this year and Beaton got the win before getting handily beaton by Barney in round two. Drawing Daryl Gurney in Hasselt was also unfortunate, but it did come together in Minehead recently, beating Ronny Huybrechts, Jelle Klaasen and a decider against Jermaine Wattimena to reach the quarter finals, before blowing a 7-4 lead in a race to 10 against Jonny Clayton.

Willie O'Connor is a name that's been around on the pro circuit for quite some time now, and while he's been on our screens since 2010 in the UK Open and Grand Prix, he's making his world championship debut at the age of 31, so still has plenty of time on his side to really establish himself. He's qualified here through winning the Tom Kirby memorial event, basically Ireland's national championship, beating Jason Cullen in the final to go one better than he did in 2009. This event has brought us Daryl Gurney, Mick McGowan and Connie Finnan in the past, amongst others. O'Connor's been a tour card holder since 2011 and was straight out of the blocks with a quarter final in the first UK Open qualifier, beating Ritchie Edhouse straight after Edhouse had beaten van Gerwen. That result and a couple of other cashes would see him make the round before the money, where he beat Steve Lennon in a local derby, then get decent draws against Mick Todd and Ronnie Baxter to reach the last 16, losing 10-7 to Simon Whitlock. He played a full tour season, not doing enough to threaten any majors other than the Players Championship Finals, solidifying his place there with a quarter final and semi final in the last five events and then once there, he made the last 16, beating James Wilson and Dave Chisnall before losing a decider to Justin Pipe, missing one dart to take it. He only made one European event, which is a bit surprising, but did at least win through to the Saturday in Riesa before being handed a tough draw in Mensur Suljovic.

Beaton's playing as well as he has done in years and is rightly considered the favourite, but O'Connor is a very dangerous opponent and not playing badly himself, and looking at the stats he is not too far behind. This genuinely could go either way, I'd tip things towards Beaton based on slightly better numbers, a wealth of stage experience and a relative lack for O'Connor (at least in a world championship setting).

WC Preview Part 7 - Just defending half your order of merit money, no pressure Adie

Adrian Lewis (1/16) v Alexsandr Oreshkin or Kevin Münch (9/1, Oreshkin 5/6, Münch 11/10 to advance)

No data available for set winning chances

It's not quite half his Order of Merit money, but it's close to it - 150 grand of his current near 350 grand total comes from the final Lewis lost to Gary Anderson two years ago, which explains his very low FRH ranking at number 20, and it's only just number 20 with Darren Webster now barely a grand behind on that metric. Lewis had an alright start to the year, with deep runs to start and end his UK Open qualification, but he would be another big name to fall to Paul Hogan once at the event proper. His next outing would be his only ranking title of the year, which looked like it was going to get him into the Grand Slam until Rob Cross stole his place, with good wins over Michael van Gerwen and Dave Chisnall, but he'd then need to scale things down a bit after back surgery, returning for the Matchplay where he was playing some excellent darts in turning over Steve Beaton, Rob Cross and Alan Norris, before reverting to what he did with incredible consistency in his earlier career, namely jobbing to Phil Taylor. That ended up being close to it for the season - he was in the Grand Prix but lost to Daryl Gurney in the opening round, didn't qualify for the Grand Slam or play enough European events, he did play the last few Pro Tour events, making the final in the last weekend where Rob Cross got his fourth win, and is apparently using a new setup from the Players Championships, where he defeated Mike de Decker and Richard North before losing to Rob Cross. It's the same as ever - when he's playing well his game is incredible, but it's consistency - a nine point difference on the averages when he's winning and losing is too big a gap.

His opponent will be one of two players we've seen before - I'll deal with Oreshkin first, who returns after a year's break to make his second appearance. In 2016, Oreshkin won a deciding leg against Paul Lim before giving Mervyn King a big scare, winning the first two sets before running out of steam, the strength of his game being decent outshots and good doubling rather than any real power scoring. He's been part of the Russian World Cup team for the past two seasons, both times with Boris Koltsov who played here last year, and this season they reached the quarter finals, seeing off the Royden Lam/Kai Fan Leung team in round one before eliminating Australia in the doubles, with Oreshkin getting the key singles win over Kyle Anderson. They would get outplayed in the quarter finals by Wales, with Oreshkin winning the only leg against Gerwyn Price, but it's still a very good run out.

Münch perhaps surprisingly won the German qualifier from their Superleague, as he appears to have dropped a bit off the radar and isn't even playing the European Tour qualifiers, last appearing on that main stage in 2016 where he lost to Jamie Caven in round one, and was whitewashed by Jonny Clayton in his only appearance in 2015. The Superleague, minus Martin Schindler who didn't play the finals as he'd already automatically qualified, and minus Max Hopp, who doesn't play it for reasons unknown, saw the top 8 players from five round robin events play in group stages then knockouts, Münch won through as the second place finisher in his group behind Rene Berndt, but would defeat former Ally Pally legend Rene Eidams in the semi final, and last year's qualifier Dragutin Horvat in the final. It's hard to say what his form is like, he did lose 4-3 in a couple of BDO events in Germany last April to decent players (Hughes, Mandigers) and he only finished fourth in the actual Superleague itself, and you'd think if he was playing OK he'd be playing the European Tour qualifiers.

The bookies have the prelim close to evens and I won't touch it as we don't have any real info on Münch outside of domestic play, gun to my head I'd say Oreshkin advances, but it could be close and scrappy. Lewis should have far, far too much quality for either of these, the last time he lost a set in the opening round was when he was defending his second title, and he's not dropped a set in the first two rounds either of the last two years.

Cristo Reyes (2/7) v Antonio Alcinas (3/1)

Reyes holds set on throw - 88.31%
Alcinas holds set on throw - 19.38%

This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time two Spanish players have met in the world championships, at least on the PDC side. Let's look at Reyes first - he's not had a bad season following his great game this time last year against Michael van Gerwen, but in some ways he's not pushed on to the next level as many thought he might, I certainly thought he could have been top 20 by now. But let's see - his UK Open qualification was solid enough, a good quarter final run being enough to get him straight to the money, where he was the beneficiary of van Gerwen's withdrawal, but he then lost to Joe Cullen in the next round. His start on the Pro Tour was solid, winning his board on four out of the first six occasions, but his floor form would peak with that first event where he made the quarters, and hasn't won his board since then. He had done enough to get seeded to quite a few of the European events, and has had a good conversion rate in turning that into actual cash, with his best runs being a spurt of back to back semi finals in June, beating names including Wright, Bunting, Whitlock and Gurney, before going out to Suljovic and van Gerwen. On TV, he was able to win against a poor Robert Thornton in Blackpool, but that would be his only win - he'd go out to Peter Wright in the next round, lose in Dublin to Benito van de Pas, lose easily in Hasselt to Dave Chisnall, and be edged out by Peter Jacques in Minehead. He didn't get close to either the World Series or Grand Slam, losing very early in qualifiers to Ricky Evans and Jermaine Wattimena, and this downturn in form is troublesome.

On the other hand, Alcinas is coming into form at the right time. We remember him from earlier in the decade where he looked useful in back to back World Championships, taking eventual finalist Andy Hamilton to a deciding set in his second shot after losing to James Wade on debut. He's looked to return to the PDC stage properly this season, winning a tour card outright on the final day (he was looking very safe regardless), and has played close to a full season. He sneaked into the UK Open on the final day, notably beating Dave Chisnall, but he'd lose 6-4 to James Richardson in the opening round. His strikerate in making European events is pretty poor, only getting into the one in June where he lost to fellow qualifier Marko Kantele, and some of the losses in qualification were surprising - to a Greek that's not John Michael, to a Vincent van der that isn't Voort, twice to Yordi Meeuwisse, although in fairness he's run into Kist twice and van den Bergh. He is at least trending upwards though, two deep runs in the Pro Tour right at the back end of the season got him to Minehead, where Darren Webster would be a step too far. Odd, as on his semi final run he beat the same Webster 6-1.

There's two players on opposite form trajectories here. Alcinas has been here before but still needs to get a win, but is seemingly playing better. Reyes has been on a slump for about six months and is without a win on TV since Blackpool, so this could be a bit twitchy if Alcinas can keep it to 1-1. Could be closer than the bookies call and worth an outside punt.