Two years is a long time in darts. It is not just at the lower reaches of the PDC Order of Merit that players come and go, but also at the upper echelons too. Seven of the 16 players that contested the 2017 Masters were not in the field for this year’s staging of the event held in Milton Keynes four weeks ago.
A dip in form, injuries, retirement. All factors behind the constant changing face of what we picture as the group of players known as the sport’s elite. Peter Wright has been a focal point in that pool of players for the last five years. But as he returns to the scene of his greatest triumph this weekend, is his grip on a spot among the PDC’s best slipping away?
March 5, 2017. Wright ended his long quest to claim a first major title, winning the UK Open at Butlin’s Minehead. Many observers, this writer included, expected more big trophies to follow for ‘Snakebite’. But aside from a couple of victories on the World Series, triumphs on the TV have escaped the world number three.
Wright’s defence of his UK Open title ended in an abrupt fashion 12 months ago. Losing away from the big stage against Northern Irish youngster Nathan Rafferty in the early rounds. While he goes to Minehead this weekend no longer as the defending champion, perhaps Wright is defending even more, namely the £70,000 he pocketed for that victory two years ago.
The PDC Order of Merit operates a rolling two-year system, so Wright is defending the prize money for that win this weekend, instead of last year, as is this case in other sports. £70,000 equates to more than 10 per cent of Wright’s earnings on the Order of Merit. And, while an early exit this weekend would not see him suddenly suffer a big drop down the rankings, if any places at all, it does have the feeling of a pivotal few days coming up for the 48-year-old.
The general consensus during parts of 2017 was that Wright was the best player in the world. Fast forward two years and Wright is still high up in the rankings, at number three, but the fear factor he possessed during that year which saw him hit double figures for title wins in a season has gone.
New contenders have come to the fore (Rob Cross). Players who were on the periphery of challenging for majors have come through (Daryl Gurney, Gerwyn Price, Michael Smith). And old contenders have rose from the ashes (James Wade). Every player has a glass ceiling. Will we look back at Wright’s golden year in 2017 in a few years time as the moment when the Scot peaked?
As he continues to tinker with his darts, still searching for the perfect formula, will Wright conquer more majors before his career comes to a close? The clock is ticking, and this weekend, with so much prize money to defend, could give us an indication of what lies ahead for the twilight years of ‘Snakebite’ and his darting journey.