- World Matchplay
Will Taylor make it World Matchplay title No.15?
The PDC World Matchplay is, by the reckoning of leading professionals, the closest rival to the World Championships and it returns to Blackpool's Winter Gardens on Saturday.
Only six players have won it in its 20-year history and it has been dominated by Phil 'The Power' Taylor, who has won it 14 times. Can he do it again? ESPN asked 2005 champion Colin Lloyd for his favourites for the final four - and two danger men from outside the leading pack.
THE FAB FOUR:
Michael van Gerwen
Ranking: World No.1 and PDC world champion
World Matchplay best: 2013 semi-finalist
Trivia: Against Steve Beaton in 2012, Van Gerwen hit the fourth nine-dart finish in the tournament's history. Van Gerwen plays Beaton in this year's first round.
Lloyd said: "You can't look past this boy. He's taken the world by storm over the last couple of years. We all knew what a talent he was as a 17 year old but then he seemed to lose his way a little bit.
"He was very young and thought the hard work had been done. He was a Winmau World Master at 17 years old - he just thought he could turn up and everything was going to click into place. You had some class players around. I was one of them - and I certainly wasn't going to lie down and roll over for some kid."
[Van Gerwen recently revealed to ESPN that he wanted to win every major tournament on the PDC calendar, no matter how long it took him to do so.]
"That's a huge prediction because there's only one player who has done that - and he's the best of the lot of us," Lloyd said. "There are still plenty of great players around and Michael's got to compete against all of them.
"It's very tough to win the Matchplay. It's one of those tournaments where the venue is very big and gets very hot quickly. If Michael gets in front, he can dictate the pace and put you to bed quite early but it's having the confidence to do that. He can only control what he does and not what his opponent does. There are a lot of players in the draw who can counteract Michael like that - and one of them is Gary Anderson."
Ranking: World No.10
World Matchplay best: Last 16 (three times)
Trivia: In 2010, he handed out the first whitewash in six years when beating Robert Thornton 10-0. Anderson plays Jamie Caven in the first round.
Lloyd said: "Gary seems to have hit form all of a sudden. He's throwing some magic darts at the minute and he's making big-name, class players look very ordinary. To be able to do that, you've got to be throwing some mega darts.
"It's just ruthless. He's going out in 12, 13, 12, 11 darts each time - so you've got to be going out in less just to hold your throw. You've got to be throwing nine-darters to break throw! You don't see that sort of form very often and he's one player who can push Michael extremely hard. He relishes playing people like Michael.
"He's been through the bereavement of his Dad and his brother, which was absolutely tragic and devastating, but I think he's moved on from that now. He and his girlfriend have had a baby so I think he's content. He's just going up and playing darts and what he is throwing is unbelievable. For that reason, Gary is going to take some beating."
Ranking: World No.2
World Matchplay best: Winner (14 times)
Trivia: At the 1995 Matchplay, Taylor earned his 'Power' nickname when a member of the television production team stepped on an empty case of Snap!'s 'The Power'. Taylor also pocketed £100,000 for hitting a nine-dart finish against long-time rival Chris Mason in 2002. He plays Darren Webster in the first round.
Lloyd said: "You don't look much further than the guvnor. He's won it 14 times. Now, he very much feels like he's got a point to prove and when Taylor's in that sort of mood, he can be frightening.
"Phil's very much at home at the Winter Gardens. He can be absolutely awesome there. He's only won the world championships twice more and that's the only two tournaments I've touched on. A 30-time winner of two majors alone and over 80 major titles to his name.
"You look at Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg - five of the biggest names in world sport and, collectively, they've still not won as many majors as Phil Taylor. That's just ridiculous.
"When you're a wounded animal, Phil is the one with the gun. He'll just put you out of your misery and get rid of you."
Ranking: World No.3 and UK Open champion
World Matchplay best: 2013 runner-up
Trivia: In his semi-final and final appearance in 2013, Lewis landed a total of 35 180s. He plays Andrew Gilding in the first round.
"Adrian showed true class when winning the UK Open this year. He played some magic darts. Terry Jenkins got to his eighth major final and Adrian just absolutely ripped him apart.
"That is because Adrian, on his day, can make any darts player look silly. He can be explosive and reel off five legs on the trot without batting an eyelid. Sometimes, you're walking off stage five-nil down and that's only after 10 minutes. He's that type of player.
"It not only happens in the blink of the eye; you're walking off stage, five-nil down and you're thinking 'I've not thrown a bad dart yet'. But you're getting absolutely annihilated. That's what Adrian's capable of doing. He was taught by Phil and can be absolutely ruthless, but it just depends on which Adrian turns up.
"Adrian's a two-time world champion. He's won the world championship and also defended it, and is the youngest player to ever do so - not even a handful of players have done that. A European champion, a UK Open champion and four majors under his belt at 29 years old, with plenty left in the tank. He is world class and can destroy anyone in a matter of minutes."
THE DANGER MEN:
The heat is on
- Colin Lloyd is the only player in PDC history to start and finish a major final with a maximum. Against John Part in the 2005 World Matchplay, he started with a 180 and took the title with a 170 maximum finish.
- This year is the first in 15 that Lloyd will miss the tournament. However, the former world No.1 revealed to ESPN the secret of his preparations - two portable heaters.
- "With the Winter Gardens, it's one of those old buildings that didn't have air conditioning. I don't know if they've installed it now - you can't have it on anyway as it would disrupt the flight of a dart - but the heat up on that stage is unbelievable.
- "I've played up on that stage before when it's been well over 100 degrees. So I thought to myself, how can I recreate that? How can I recreate that atmosphere and humidity?
- "At home, I've got my den at the bottom of the garden, away from any distractions. I used to go down there, knowing it would be a blazing hot day, and put two portable heaters on full blast next to the dart board. I'd go down in all my gear, everything I'd wear on TV. I'd have about 45 minutes warming up and then I'd do another hour-and-a-half practice.
- "The sweat used to pour out of me, but it was a good experience because by the time I got to Blackpool my body had acclimatised. I found that, when I was sweating, I wouldn't feel it. I could switch it off. I could just let beads of sweat run and they wouldn't annoy me. That was the way I got myself used to the hot and stuffy conditions.
- "Your hands got clammy and you could feel the beads of sweat running down your back. All those things that, when the pressure is on, you notice more. That was the great thing about doing that. There was tackiness and sweatiness, so I knew exactly when to wipe my hand or wipe my darts. I was getting the feel for it."
Ranking: World No.6
World Matchplay best: 2007 champion
Faces Andy Smith in his first-round match.
Lloyd said: "There are not many players in the PDC who have got a World Matchplay record like James Wade. He's won it and he's been runner-up four times. Each time it took Phil Taylor to stop him.
"He's got a point to prove. That boy has got balls of steel and he's rock hard on a dart board. I've always said that if aliens ever came down to take me away I'd challenge them to a game of darts. And when they said: 'You can't pick yourself to play and you can't pick Phil,' I'd say: 'Get me James Wade'. You don't get many that are more solid than him. He is cool as ice up there. No silly antics, no messing around. He goes crash bang wallop and that's it."
Ranking: World No.45 and BDO world champion
World Matchplay best: 2014 debutant
Makes his debut against 2014 world championship finalist Peter Wright.
Lloyd said: "Stephen's a two-time Winmau World Master and that's not an easy event to win. Yes, it's a different organisation but he's also the current BDO world champion as well. I've known Steve since he was a snotty-nosed little kid hanging around with the big boys. People haven't seen the best of him yet.
"He's not very old so he's one for the future - but he's already a world champion. He can throw darts for fun and he'll be a big danger in Blackpool. Stephen is still young enough and he's got the drive. He's been successful at youth level and he's now intent on doing the same at professional level. There's absolutely no reason why he can't be a world champion on the PDC side as well."