Taylor looks set to enter the final chapter of his illustrious career (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
Unpopular presidential inaugurations? Brexit? Protest marches? There hasn’t been much to celebrate yet this year, but fear not, the darts is back to save our sanity.
It’s time to swap Trump for tungsten, Article 50 for Treble 20 and demos for doubles as the PDC’s box office names prepare to give darts back to the masses.
Yes, it may only have been 25 days, but Michael van Gerwen’s world title winning double at Ally Pally already seems like a lifetime ago.
Fellow purists may have opted to sustain their tungsten fix with a drip-feed of Lakeside action, but let’s face it, it doesn’t quite get the juices flowing in a way the sport’s household names can.
The elite Unibet Masters marks the start of another captivating campaign, with at least eleven televised tournaments, numerous streamed events and more than 150 days of darts in the offing.
So, what will the remainder of 2017 have in store? Here’s five distinct possibilities…
A nine-darter in a European Tour event
It’s incredible to think that in four years of European Tour darts, only one man has managed to achieve the sport’s holy grail.
If you were to pick a player to hit the first (and so far only) nine-darter in European Tour history, chances are it would not have been Ross Smith, but ‘Smudger’ stunned us all by landing a perfect leg against Adrian Lewis in the 2013 Gibraltar Trophy.
Since then, many have come within a whisker of repeating the feat, but none have succeeded.
With the series now expanded to 12 events in 2017, many of which featuring the majority of the big hitters, the law of averages and scintillating standard suggests the nine-dart drought must surely come to an end somewhere along the line.
The world record televised average to be broken
Phil Taylor’s 118.66 three-dart average against Kevin Painter had proudly stood as the runaway record for six years before a certain MVG shattered it with a 123.40 against Michael Smith during last season’s Premier League.
Had it not been for a flurry of missed doubles late on in the contest, the green machine would have ended with an average in excess of 130 – arguably entering unbreakable territory.
As it is, he has now set himself a realistic target to eclipse in 2017 and the short, round-robin format of the Premier League again presents the ideal first opportunity.
That’s not to say any other player is incapable of re-writing the record books, but MVG is the man who is continually raising the bar and will be intent on setting himself new standards.
Peter Wright to win a televised title
Like an obscurely-coloured fine wine, Peter Wright seems to be getting better with age, and the stats certainly back that up.
The flamboyant Scot finally (touch wood) appears to have found his arrows of desire, and it’s no coincidence that he’s been producing his best form on a more consistent basis while sticking to one set.
His tally of defeats in televised finals currently stands at four, but should he pick up from where he left off in 2016, expect to see ‘Snakebite’ finally realise his darting destiny sooner rather than later.
In only three of his 18 televised campaigns last season did Wright fail to reach at least the Quarter-Final stage, and that level of consistency suggests it’s surely only a matter of time before he enters the winner’s circle. He is simply too good not to.
The 46-year-old has been thwarted by his nemesis Van Gerwen, losing the last 16 meetings between the two in all competitions, and that’s a mental barrier he must overcome if he is to avoid becoming the sport’s bridesmaid.
Michael van Gerwen to go unbeaten in the Premier League
Mighty Mike enjoyed an emphatic spell of dominance last season, the like of which not seen since Phil Taylor in his pomp more than a decade ago, and there’s little to suggest that won’t continue into 2017.
Van Gerwen has not suffered defeat since his Last 16 exit to Daryl Gurney in last October’s German Championship and has gone unbeaten in TV majors since the opening night of last season’s Premier League.
That loss to James Wade in Leeds would be the only slip-up MVG would suffer before romping to the title 15 weeks later, defying the popular opinion that he may often come unstuck over the best of 12 format if he is anywhere off the top of his game.
He carries an ominous air of invincibility into this season’s elite ten-man event and based on last year’s effort, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could retain the Premier League crown without tasting defeat along the way.
Phil Taylor to drop out of the world’s top ten
Taylor has made it quite clear that he is gradually scaling down his involvement in professional competition and will only compete in what he ‘qualifies for’ beyond this season.
The 16-time World Champion dropped to sixth in the Order of Merit following his Quarter-Final exit at Ally Pally – his lowest ranking since the formation of the PDC 25 years ago.
Taylor now has the likes of Dave Chisnall, Mensur Suljovic and Jelle Klaasen breathing down his neck, all of whom are likely to feature in the majority of TV, ProTour and European Tour events in 2017 and will thus gain ground on ‘The Power’ in his absence.
Of course, ranking positions no longer concern the Stoke great, but the lower he drops, the harder it becomes to win major titles with the inevitability of running into his main rivals at earlier phases of competition.
The 56-year-old undoubtedly still has the ability and hunger to lift major trophies, but the task will be tougher than ever in 2017, and it could well be the final chapter for the sport’s most decorated ambassador.
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Unpopular presidential inaugurations? Brexit? Protest marches? There hasn’t been much to celebrate yet this year, but fear not, the darts…
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