This is a biggy! The World Matchplay is only second in stature to the World Championship.
The Winter Gardens, Blackpool, is one of the favourite venues among the players, but not all. Kim Huybrechts has lost in the first round for six straight years! Sheesh! For all the talent and championship winning credentials he has, Gary Anderson has never made a final there.
Phil Taylor, the reigning champion, won't be in Blackpool to retain his trophy as he's now retired from the sport, but he will be on screen for Sky Sports in both the studio and in the commentary booth. I for one am looking forward to hearing him.
So, who wins and who loses, and why?!
Wade back to winning ways?
Needless to say Michael Van Gerwen is the short priced antepost favourite, at just a shade odds on at 10/11. Michael has contested three of the last four finals, winning two of them.
And the only man to have beaten MVG in the last four years is Phil Taylor.
But there are a few players registering some positive displays and figures right now, James Wade, a six-time finalist and one-time winner of this event has to enter calculations.
James has been playing better the last six months or so. With more confidence and perfect timing within matches, which is his forte, James could well reach a seventh final> He's 22/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, which is paying 1/3 the odds for the losing finalist, and was a bigger price until his recent mauling of MVG in Las Vegas.
Rob Cross, the world champ, will like his section of the draw. The third seed is in the other half to Gary Anderson, a man who he's struggles to beat, and the world's best player Michael Van Gerwen.
Rob will have to be on his game, as Wade, Ian White, Mensur Suljovic and the second seed Peter Wright are in his half. Not being disrespectful at all to anyone in the bottom half, but it is a little softer.
The top is littered with potential winners - MVG, Gary, Barney, Adrian Lewis, Daryl Gurney, Michael Smith - and I'm staying away from the top half for my bets, it's a minefield. That leaves the bottom half for us to decipher.
Only back consistent types
To win the Matchplay you must be consistent, you don't need to be brilliant all the time.
There's a relentless nature to the format, it's solely leg play, no sets. Leg in and leg out, you need to keep the pressure on your opponent. That's why Wade has done so well in the event so often.
I'm completely disinterested in inconsistent types, I'm only looking to those that can sustain a high level over 30-odd legs.
I'll be backing two players from the bottom half that fit the above criteria, both are proven. Mensur Suljovic and Wade.
Both have an average game that way above the norm, both can turn it on, both can make their opponents panic through sheer relentlessness in or around the treble 20 bed, and they are two of the best double hitters in the world under pressure.
Sure Mensur is good enough
Mensur. I have no concerns about him holding himself together and whether he's good enough or not...he is! Mensur is the current Champions League of Darts winner and a World Series event winner, both leg format events. Oddly enough, Mensur's opening match against Steve Beaton could be a difficult one for him, I think he will, but his record against Steve is played eight, lost eight.
On the upside they've never met over a long format like the Matchplay, and never met on the TV stage. Hopefully Mensur can put these demons to bed.
If all goes to plan we'll have two men in a semi-final
Wade is looking to make his seventh final since 2006 and repeat his success from 2007, and his first since losing to MVG in 2015.
James' recent lift in form is most welcome, not just for him personally, but for the world of darts. The seven-time major winner is a class act and in my opinion it's great to see him causing havoc again.
As I've stated, Mensur and James are both in the bottom half and are seeded to meet in the semi-finals, so if all goes according to plan we'll have a decent priced runner in the final.