We're off to Dublin for the World Grand Prix Darts on Sunday, for a week-long tungsten battle in the highly entertaining 'Double in Double out' format, and as ever, our man Wayne Mardle is here to preview the tournament...
"Raymond has my money on his head nearly every time he enters an event. I think the man looks a winner in any format. He's in Van Gerwen's half of the draw, and we know he holds no fear for the five-time world champ."
Like all darts tournaments nowadays, Michael van Gerwen starts favourite; 5/6 on the Betfair Sportsbook (best price in the industry at time of writing, according to Oddschecker).
If the Green Machine plays well, he wins. He showed last year he's a lover of the format, double start, double finish. It's the only time of year the players play this format. Michael has won this event three times and is a worthy odds-on favourite to make four.
Phil Taylor isn't in the field. The Power is missing the event for the first time since its inception in 1998. The 11-time champ is retiring next year, and has cut down his playing schedule dramatically this year.
There are some tasty first round matches, over the best of three sets too! You can't be tardy in this format.
Without stating the obvious, we know it's about hitting doubles. If you can't get the double in quickly enough you don't get a chance to check out. Struggle to get away and the pressure mounts... I know all too well what it feels like. Haha.
The main men
Of this year's protagonists, MVG and Gary Anderson (9/2) are the class acts, we know that.
Peter Wright (8/1) will be looking to win his first week-long major event. Snakebite has just won his 10th event of the year, some feat that!
James Wade (50/1) and Adrian Lewis (33/1) have either been absent in recent events or poor. Adrian has had health issues, let's hope that's all behind him and he can get back to winning ways.
So, onto my thoughts and bets.
Merv and Barney look like outsiders to follow
My outside bets are Mervyn King (100/1) and Raymond Van Barneveld (40/1).
Mervyn has always been a fantastic double 16 hitter, he's a former runner-up too (he lost to MVG in 2012). When it's going for him he's a real tough opponent. My bet is based upon him settling in and hitting that 32 like he can. He's a huge price because he's been so inconsistent, let's hope he has a good week.
Raymond has my money on his head nearly every time he enters an event. I think the man looks a winner in any format. He's in Van Gerwen's half of the draw, and we know he holds no fear for the five-time world champ.
At 40/1 he seems a little big for me. My worry is that Barney has no plan. There have been a few times in recent years when his starting double hasn't been his friend, and on those occasions he's been unsure of what double to use as back up. Switching from double to double to start isn't going to work. You need routine, routine helps the action of throwing because it adds rhythm.
If Barney can manage his game he's much better than a 40/1 chance.
MVGs odds aren't that appealing, he's short because he's the best, and he's obviously the most likely winner in my - and many others - eyes.
If Michael does get beat, I personally think it'll be Raymond or Gary who beats him, the only two players in the field who have proven time and time again they don't fear him.
First Round Draw
Michael van Gerwen (1) v John Henderson
Alan Norris v Justin Pipe
Raymond van Barneveld (8) v Kyle Anderson
Steve Beaton v Rob Cross
Dave Chisnall (5) v Jelle Klaasen
Robert Thornton v Kim Huybrechts
Adrian Lewis (4) v Daryl Gurney
Joe Cullen v Darren Webster
Gary Anderson (2) v Richard North
Simon Whitlock v Christian Kist
Michael Smith (7) v Gerwyn Price
Benito van de Pas v Cristo Reyes
Mensur Suljovic (6) v Ian White
Steve West v James Wade
Peter Wright (3) v Stephen Bunting
Mervyn King v Ronny Huybrechts