Gary Anderson returns to action in the UK Open, as he looks to retain the trophy he won for the first time 12 months ago.
There’ll be a different feel around Minehead this time around with a crowd allowed in following last year’s decision to play behind closed doors due to Britain being in the grip of the ‘Beast from the East.’
James Wade, Steve Beaton and Wayne Jones remain the only ever presents with the trio making their 17th consecutive appearance in the competition.
This tournament is referred to as the ‘FA Cup of Darts’ with its open style draw and this year sees more players and the world’ top 32 entering in the fourth round rather than the third.
With more players taking their chance, could there be some value to be had in taking on those top ranked players?
Michael van Gerwen (10/11 – Various)
The reigning World Champion has allowed his cloak of invincibility slide despite taking top honours at Alexandra Palace on New Year’s Day.
The Dutchman has romped through tournaments in recent years but he hasn’t fared too well in this and was beaten in the third round last year when dumped out by Jeffrey de Zwaan.
He was forced to withdraw in 2017 due to a back issue, so his name hasn’t been on this title in a couple of years and that is something that ‘Mighty Mike’ will want to address.
On the floor, he won the Players Championship 3 event beating Ian White in the final 8-5 with a 105.7 average. The following day saw him lose 6-1 to Nathan Aspinall in the last 16 despite averaging 103, so he is giving opponents chances.
He may be unbeaten in the Premier League after defeating James Wade in Exeter last night and although his claims are for all to see, his price isn’t for me.
Gary Anderson (8/1 – Various)
Last year’s winner Gary Anderson returns to action from the back injury that caused him problems during the World Championships and forced his withdrawal from the Premier League.
His winning run saw him lift the trophy averaging 97.77 for the tournament, which saw him beat Rob Cross in the quarter-finals before getting the better of Corey Cadby in final 11-7.
For as much as ‘The Flying Scotsman’ has the natural ability to defend his crown, much will be bad of his back issue.
Anderson isn’t usually one to put it all in on the practice board and considering his recent injury he may be a little rusty, which is why he’s hard to fancy despite all of the ability he possesses.
Rob Cross (18/1 – Sky Bet)
The 2018 World Champion made his UK Open debut all the way back in 2016 as a Riley’s Qualifier.
He reached the fourth round where his run was ended by eventual champion Michael van Gerwen. A year later he came back and went a round further before the open draw paired him up against Peter Wright and he found ‘Snakebite’ too good.
‘Voltage’ was below par last year after his exploits in his debut season but he has started to show signs of a recovery and some of that was evident in last night’s thrashing of Daryl Gurney.
It is just one Players Championship semi-final so far in six events and he’s been shelling a few too many darts at the doubles in those floor games, which has to be the concern, so his arrival in Minehead could see him facing early trouble.
Peter Wright (20/1 – Betfair/Paddy Power)
2017 UK Open winner Peter Wright fell at the first in the third round last year at the hands of 18 year old Nathan Rafferty.
That was arguably the biggest shock in last year’s tournament and the colourful Scot will be looking to avoid a repeat this time around.
For me, he is one of the darting nearly-men that has the game but consistently knocks on the door without breaking through.
He maintained his unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign with a victory over Mensur Suljovic but that doesn’t tell you the whole story of his season.
At last weekend’s two Players Championship events, ‘Snakebite’ won just one game beating Jelle Klaasen 6-5 on the Saturday before losing in the second round. On the Sunday, he lost in 6-4 in the opening round to Benito van de Pas, so it’s been a scratchy start to 2019 for the Scot.
Part of the issue I have with him is his consistent tinkering with his darts rather than finding a set of tungsten and sticking to it.
That constant chopping and changing always tempers my enthusiasm for him because it can see him blow hot or cold with little in between with him proving that last night when losing 7-4 to Mensur Suljovic.
Michael Smith (20/1 – Betfair/Paddy Power)
After reaching the World Championship Final, plenty was expected from Michael Smith coming into 2019 but his Premier League campaign has hardly got going.
He’s had distractions away from the board and got married days after finishing as runner-up at the worlds but the biggest issue has been with his health.
Just the other day he was forced to have emergency surgery on an abscess around the groin, which has been causing him issues while on the oche. His participation should really be under question but he’s confirmed to carry on playing!
The abscess is likely to have had some sort of impact on the 28 year olds game and he has been ordinary on the tour. His best run on the floor saw him reach the quarter-finals of Players Championship 1 but last weekend saw him just win once across both events.
‘Bully Boy’ is a fluent player who scores big but with him likely to be playing with discomfort then that has to concern, plus he hasn’t yet to fire in 2019.
James Wade (40/1 – Various)
I’m a fan of James Wade maybe because I’m a fellow leftie but he’s just a solid proposition who gets on with the game.
His doubling is very strong and that will always see him pinch the odd leg here and there with him taking advantage of a lax moment from his opponent.
But, ‘The Machine’ has managed to break the ton-plus averages in the past six months or so, which isn’t something he’s known for and that proves his scoring is stronger than it used to be.
The ever-present is a two-time winner of this trophy and after winning consecutive titles last year when claiming the European Championships and World Series of Darts Finals then we know he still remains capable of victories after a barren spell.
He reminded people of that last night in the Premier League when defeating Michael van Gerwen 7-3, which saw him finish with a 47% checkout success rate, including a 121 on the bull.
A couple of years ago he would have started around half the price he is chalked up at, so those 40/1 quotes do have some substance to them with Wade’s game looking better than it ever has done.
There are four players I’ve identified that look to be worth following in a tournament that can open up due to its nature.
Gerwyn Price (22/1 – Ladbrokes/Coral)
The former rugby player is arguably the most in-form player arriving in Minehead.
After a slow start to the Players Championship events, he reached the semi-final in the fourth one in Wigan then last weekend in Barnsley, he recorded back-to-back victories, joining an elite list in achieving that.
The Welshmen averaged 101.54 across Saturday’s event that saw him win the final with a 109.7 average, while on the Sunday his overall average was slightly better at 102.97.
‘The Iceman’ has seemingly found a happy medium now he’s deleted social media and he’s now learned how to handle with the crowd booing him.
Price remains unbeaten in the Premier League after four games. He started that campaign with a 7-4 win over Daryl Gurney and has followed that up with three consecutive draws.
Last night he earned a draw with ‘contender’ Luke Humphries where he took out a tidy 76 to earn a point. It was a game that saw him nearly hit a perfect leg with his attempt at D12 narrowly missing for the nine-darter.
He’s playing full of confidence and his recent performances have been very impressive, so he’s hard to ignore here considering he was runner-up here in 2017.
I’ve used my Ladbrokes daily odds boost for this bet and it’s been nicely boosted to 25/1!
Glen Durrant (33/1 – Betfair/Paddy Power)
Round Two sees three-time BDO World Champion Glen Durrant make his UK Open debut.
There’s no doubt in my mind that he is being underestimated by many, despite going through Q-School and earning his tour card the hard way.
He’s already made his mark in the PDC by winning Players Championship 4 where he picked up some notable scalps along the way, including Mensur Suljovic, Gerwyn Price and then defeated Dimitri van den Bergh 8-3 in the final.
That run of results saw him claim his maiden PDC title and his average across that day was 101.28 while he was mightily impressive in his semi-final win over Price when averaging 109.3.
The Middlesbrough man put in three ton-plus averages last Saturday in Barnsley, including in defeat to Ian White.
He made his Premier League debut in Glasgow where he shelled too many darts at double to trouble Daryl Gurney but his scoring was as sound as usual.
The 48 year old has already shown he can compete at this level since his switch, plus he’s shown that when invited to take part in the Grand Slam of Darts.
In 2017, he topped his group after beating Peter Wright and Alan Norris while last year he opened his campaign with a 5-1 win over Simon Whitlock.
There is no doubt in my mind that ‘Duzza’ will quickly climb the PDC rankings and he’ll do that by putting in a good run in Minehead – something I expect him to do.
Danny Noppert (200/1 – Various)
Another man formerly of the BDO is Danny Noppert and at a three-figure price, he could be one man to put a run of results together to challenge the more established names.
He earned a two-year tour card last year and that saw him take his chance in the PDC World Championships in December.
‘Noppie’ got underway with a 3-0 win over Royden Lam in the opening round but his prolificacy on the outer ring proved costly against Hopp where he missed 19 darts at double.
The Dutch thrower has plenty of ability, as he showed when reaching the BDO World Championship final back in 2017. He can score powerfully but it’s those pesky doubles that tend to be his Achilles heel.
He has had a taste of this Butlins scenery after competing here last year, which saw a second round exit at the hands of Ryan Harrington, son of Rod.
The 28 year old can use that experience to good effect this time around and he starts his campaign in the third round against Mickey Mansell. There’s no doubt it’s a tricky tie for the Dutchman but if he scores as well as he can then he should give himself plenty of time on the doubles to see the legs out.
He arrives in Minehead full of confidence after last weekend saw him put in runs to the semi-finals in both Players Championship events. Those efforts came on the back of early exits in the previous few events, so his determination on the practice board has worked.
After a slow start to the year those two competitions will have got him back into the groove and with him having that winning mentality then he can draw upon that to put in a good run, plus he’s already recorded a perfect nine-dart leg on tour this year!
Gabriel Clemens (500/1 – Various)
One man to watch this year is Gabriel Clemens. He has buckets of ability and this year should start to see his emergence up the rankings.
Last Saturday, he put in a charge to the final of Players Championship 5 only to find a Gerwyn Price averaging 109.7 too good.
The following day saw an exit in the last 32 but not before he made his mark. In the first round, he defeated Jamie Hughes in a deciding leg finishing with a 111.2 average in what will go down as one of the better contest across all the Players Championship events.
‘The German Giant’ beat Glen Durrant in the second round before losing to Adrian Lewis despite averaging 97 against the two-time world champion.
He impressed me during the World Championships that saw him exit in the second round at the hands of John Henderson. The Scot prevailed 3-2 at Ally Pally but it was a ding-dong affair that saw plenty of maximums and big finishes.
Clemens is capable of averaging around the 100 mark and has shown that he warrants plenty of respect with some of his performances already this year.
He’ll be straight into the third round with him holding a position in the top 64 on the Order of Merit, although he’s playing the difficult Zoran Lerchbacher.
Last year, he started in the second round when whitewashing Andrew Gilding 6-0 then he put in a solid performance against Kim Huybrechts but ultimately losing out 10-8 to the Belgian.
He built on that throughout the year, which saw some good performances, especially on the Ally Pally stage.
The German is starting to make waves on the PDC circuit and the quotes of 500/1 look ludicrous for a player that is very capable of causing an upset or two.
Don’t be put off by the big prices in the UK Open. Last year saw John Part reach the quarter-finals while David Pallett and Robert Owen were semi-finalists.