The new PDC season gets underway this weekend with the 2019 BetVictor Masters, as 16 of the top 17 battle it out over three days at The Marshall Arena, in Milton Keynes. ALEX MOSS picks out five things to look out for…
1. Five in a row for MVG?
It may be a new season, but one thing that remains the same is Michael van Gerwen being the pre-tournament favourite.
The world number one picked up his third world title at Alexandra Palace at the start of 2019, and comes to Milton Keynes off the back of that success as an 8/15 favourite with new tournament sponsors BetVictor.
Van Gerwen has won the Masters for the last four years, with wins over Raymond van Barneveld in the 2015 and 2018 finals, and victories over Dave Chisnall (2016) and Gary Anderson (2017) in the other two deciders.
The long format suits the Dutchman too. Unlike most leg-play TV tournaments, the Masters is first to 10 legs from the start. Few would back against MVG making it five Masters titles in a row.
2. Public Enemy #1 vs Public Enemy #2?
One of the most eye-catching ties in the first round sees Grand Slam champion Gerwyn Price take on European Championship and World Series Finals winner James Wade.
This will be Price’s first appearance on our screens since the DRA’s verdict came out on the events at last year’s Grand Slam.
The Welshman was handed a £20,000 fine, plus another £1,500 for a social media post, as well as a suspended ban, which runs out in July.
Price received a lot of heat from darts fans following his Grand Slam success, while James Wade also came into the firing line for a celebration during his win against Seigo Asada in the World Championship.
After the game, Price joked on Twitter: “Please say I’ve been knocked off as most hated. I’ll be a good boy from now on I promise.”
Regardless of what some fans think of Price and Wade, they are two of the sport’s top players and should serve up a treat on Saturday night.
3. Return of the Bullet
Usually the Masters is restricted to the top 16 on the PDC Order of Merit, following the World Championship.
But earlier this week world number four Gary Anderson withdrew from the event, due to a back injury, and up stepped Stephen Bunting to take his place.
Bunting, now ranked 17th on the Order of Merit, has showed glimpses in recent times of getting back to the form that saw him dominate the BDO circuit and then impress in his first 18 months in the PDC.
A win over Peter Wright, then the world number two, on his way to reaching the quarter-finals of the Players Championship Finals at the back end of last year was certainly a step in the right direction.
That run in Minehead ended a streak of 21 consecutive televised tournaments without a last-eight appearance. Just one win in Milton Keynes this weekend would make it two quarter-final berths in three TV events for the Bullet.
4. Three debutants in Milton Keynes
Of the 16 players competing this weekend, three will be making their Masters debuts: Darren Webster, Joe Cullen and Jonny Clayton.
Cullen and Clayton, ranked 15th and 16th, take on the world’s top two in their opening games, while Webster faces alternate Stephen Bunting.
All three have shown their quality on the big stage over the last 12 months and are worthy of their spots in the field.
Webster knocked out Rob Cross at the World Matchplay last summer, the same tournament which saw Cullen come agonisingly close to beating eventual champion Gary Anderson in the quarter-finals.
Clayton’s progress in 2018 was probably the most impressive of the trio, winning a European Tour event and then gaining a win over Michael van Gerwen at the Grand Slam.
5. Two form horses meet in the first round
An excellent piece from the PDC’s statistical analyst, Christopher Kempf, earlier this week, showed which players have the best records when it comes to matches that are the best of 19 legs or longer.
There was no surprises that Michael van Gerwen sits at the top of that list, with a record of 117-26, but in second and fourth places sit Peter Wright and Adrian Lewis.
The two meet in the final game of the first round on Saturday night and out of all the eight ties is the hardest one to call.
Lewis, now back in the top 16 at 14th, is slowly, but surely, on his way back up, while Wright, for the first time since bursting onto the scene in 2013, is now starting to slip down the rankings.
This year will see Wright defending a lot of money, including that maiden major success at the UK Open, while Lewis’ rotten 2017 means if he continues to improve should continue to climb up.
With it being a non-ranking event this weekend, the pressure is off Wright and his ranking, but he will still want to put on a good showing to reassert himself as one of the best there is.
Listen to episode 89 of the Weekly Dartscast podcast, with special guests Martin Adams and Shaun Greatbatch, and get our co-hosts’ predictions on who will win the Masters via the player below