ALL roads lead to Blackpool for what quite simply is the most open World Matchplay in PDC history.
The card is absolutely stacked with world class players and of the 32 players making their way to the Lancashire coast, I’d argue that at least half will harbour realistic ambitions of taking home the Phil Taylor trophy on Sunday 24 July.
The tournament bracket has been made and the amount of tricky opening games is quite frankly ridiculous. So many players will feel slighted at the quality of their opponent, but it is credit to the PDC that the depth of quality in the sport has never been higher.
With so many intriguing plot points, let’s scan the top six in the betting and look for some potential value.
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN is finally back to the top of the market having (just!) won the Premier League and good luck trying to tell the Green Machine that he won’t win this tournament. But his record at the Matchplay is surprisingly spotty.
It’s been six years since he won at Blackpool and he’s only made the semis once in the last four tournaments. An opening game against old foe and hugely dangerous Adrian Lewis will be fireworks.
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PETER WRIGHT is top seed and defending champion. He faces rank outsider Madars Razma first up but may have to take on Jonny Clayton or Dimitri van den Bergh in the quarters. Not featuring in the Premier League Finals, he also lost out in the World Cup of Darts and was quiet in the Players Championship last week.
I can see him reaching the last eight and wouldn’t back against the last four, but 6/1 is too short a price for me to back him and I think a young gun in his section could well get the better of him. I was close to giving him a punt but it’s been six years since a #1 seed won the tournament and there’s just more appealing selections for me.
The two Welsh boys GERWYN PRICE and JONNY CLAYTON are both looking for their first Matchplay title and are on opposite sides of the draw. By their own ludicrously high standards, they’ve just dipped a bit as of late and must feel gutted after losing the World Cup final after starting heavy favourites.
Clayton got waxed by Joe Cullen in the Premier League Finals in Berlin. He may have to contend with a red-hot Dimitri van den Bergh or World quarter-finalist Callan Rydz in the second round, while Price has a few banana skins in Kim Huybrechts, Jose De Sousa or potentially Rob Cross. On current form for Price in particular, it’s hard to justify them being single figure prices.
Is this the tournament where all the stars align for MICHAEL SMITH? Winning the US Darts Masters and three consecutive Players Championship events in the last two months isn’t a bad little haul. There’s certainly big names in his quarter: Dirk van Duijvenbode, Ryan Searle and Gary Anderson all feature, but Smith knows that he will be (and should be) favourite to beat any of them.
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I’m convinced more than ever that he will win a major in the next two calendar years. It may not be a Rob Cross style major from nowhere but he’s inching ever closer and the knowledgeable Blackpool crowd will be on his side for the majority, supporting the (somewhat) local lad. With double figure prices knocking around, I’m putting my faith in Bully Boy.
Want to back another potential first-time major winner? Step forward LUKE HUMPHRIES. Cool Hand was an absolutely absurd 50/1 to win the 2023 World Championships in January. That price is long gone (now just 10s in places) after winning three European Tour titles in four months, solidifying him as one of the most in-form players in the world.
He looks a million dollars on the oche, with the 27-year old losing several stone over the last couple of years. That may well be an advantage more than ever, with the famously fierce heat of the Winter Gardens stage about to be worse than ever due to the heatwave soon to hit the UK.
Expect to see more than one player moaning about the conditions, and it’ll be down to who copes with it best. With Humphries already showing that he can do so, coupled with the form and health of his life, he's an easy to back mid-carder at 14/1. This could well be his true breakout performance to push him into the elite.
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As for the outsiders, there’s more than a few to track and appreciate. DAMON HETA (25/1) may follow the Jonny Clayton route of using the World Cup as a springboard for his singles career. Simon Whitlock has called him a future World Champion and the Aussie has never had more confidence than right now. He’s nicknamed ‘The Heat’: You can be sure he won’t be minding this weather!
RYAN SEARLE (40/1) can never be disregarded and the only reason I’m not on board is that he just seems to have the most brutal schedule with DVD and Michael Smith in potential consecutive games.
Can JAMES WADE (40/1) do what James Wade does and stick around in the tournament till the latter stages? A favourable game with Martin Lukeman begins the week but this long leg format doesn’t suit his game and the big scoring of Cullen, Heta et al maybe too much for the Machine to handle.
There’s mouth-watering matches wherever you look, and that doesn’t even mention the Women’s Matchplay, which will be held for the first time on Finals day. (Side note: Lisa Ashton at 6/4 to win the tournament is a GIFT and should be treated as such) The opening docket of games is so tricky but I’ve put together a 10/1 five-fold to get the juices flowing.
Whoever you’re backing, good luck and game on!
1pt – Michael Smith @ 12/1 Best Price – add to your betslip here
1pt – Luke Humphries @ 14/1 Best Price – add to your betslip here
First Round Acca (0.5pts)
Michael Smith to beat Andrew Gilding
Luke Humphries to beat Nathan Aspinall
James Wade to beat Martin Lukeman
Daryl Gurney to beat Gary Anderson
Danny Noppert to beat Brendan Dolan
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