Darts guru Ben Levene (@benlevene96) looks ahead to the PDC Masters, the opening event of 2018.
PDC Masters| 26th-28th January 2018 | ITV
The Darts returns this weekend in Milton Keynes with The Masters. Firstly, we must note that this is a non-ranking event, so although there is prize money up for grabs, it does not contribute to the PDC Order of Merit. The Order of Merit runs on a two-year basis, this means players often have the added pressure of ‘defending’ prize money if they performed well in the event 24-months-ago. However, that is not the case here.
The event is comprised of the top 16 ranked players in the PDC, and takes the best of 19 leg format in the opening two rounds, before increasing to the best of 21 legs after that.
World Number One Michael Van Gerwen has won this event in each of the last three years. He wasn’t at his relentless best at the World Championship’s, yet still reached the Semi-Final’s where he had match darts against Rob Cross, averaging 102. If you take a step back and apply perspective, that’s still pretty good. He overcame both Gerwyn Price and Raymond Van Barneveld prior to that, whom both brought an extra gear to their game.
Might Mike has won each of the last five tournaments which take the leg format and has won all of his last 12 games which take the best of 19 or 21 leg format.
2017 was not his best year in terms of Major’s, yet on both occasions he failed to win one, he bounced straight back and won the following event.
MVG is 5/6 to triumph in Milton Keynes, yet he was shorter to win the World Championship’s, a far harder tournament. He’s well drawn here as he faces Kim Huybrechts before the winner of Simon Whitlock v James Wade, while Rob Cross, Peter Wright and Raymond Van Barneveld are all in the other half of the draw.
Van Gerwen has a great record in this event and the format tends to allow his consistency to shine through. Very rarely will you find me backing an odds-on shot outright, but MVG is backable here.
Value in the lower half
Peter Wright will have been disappointed with the end to what was the best calendar year of his career. Snakebite was eliminated in the second round of the World Championship’s by Jamie Lewis who was hitting absolutely everything, but even on that occasion Snakebite averaged 103.
In 2017, Wright won the UK Open (his first TV title) and reached the Final of the Matchplay, Premier League and Grand Slam. Along with MVG and Cross, he was part of this trio which dominated floor events at the start of the year. Snakebite was on par with the best for the bulk of the year, so I was surprised to see him at 8/1 for this event.
In comparison, Rob Cross is 4/1 but I’m not sure there is a huge gulf in class between the pair. We also need to factor in the fact Cross has had to carry out a lot of media and contractual duties that come with being World Champion, so may not have hit the practice board as much as he would have liked. Raymond Van Barneveld has on numerous occasions admitted the World’s is the event that really matters, which puts question marks over him. He’s been off completing a course learning German, too.
Wright has averaged over 95 in 14 of his last 16 matches, which indicates he has a strong mean game when not playing well. He’s also shed a fair amount of weight and has turned vegan, so is seemingly fresher and healthy these days. At the prices, Snakebite looks the value in the lower half of the draw.
Smith can give a good account
Michael Smith impressed me at times last year. Not much needs to be said about his natural talent, he’ll have these spells where he will reel off consecutive legs for fun. His problem lies in consistency, but I’m convinced that part of his game is getting there.
He had darts for the match in the 2nd round of the World’s against eventual champion Rob Cross, and was phenomenal in the opening session of his last 16 clash with Gary Anderson at the Grand Slam where he averaged well over 100.
He’s failed to produce at key moments but the more he competes at the elite level, it will come. He’s finished at a rate of at least 40% in six of his last seven TV matches which is a bonus too, given it’s not an aspect of the game we associate with him.
To win his quarter he’d need to win two matches. The first against an out of sorts Mensur Suljovic, and should he do that he’d most likely face a Cross whose preparation may not have been ideal. Smith is 5/1 to win the 4th quarter and looks worth chancing.
PDC Masters – Michael Van Gerwen to win outright (5/6 Boylesports)
PDC Masters – Peter Wright to win Each Way (8/1 Sky Bet)
PDC Masters – Michael Smith to win Quarter 4 (5/1 Bet365)