Darts: Players Championship Preview
Van Gerwen aims to go Double Dutch
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN begins his bid to retain the Cash Converters Players Championship Finals on Friday night with a clash against Dutch rival Raymond van Barneveld at the Butlins Minehead Resort.
Van Gerwen produced a brilliant comeback to win last year's Players Championship Finals, when he hit back from 6-3 down against Phil Taylor in the final to win 11-7.
Van Gerwen turned the game on its head with a run of seven successive legs, which included three 11-darters, before going on to take the title - a precursor to his subsequent succession of Taylor as World Champion and world number one.
This year's ITV4-televised event - which includes a prize fund which has been boosted by 20% to £300,000 - begins with the first round split across two sessions on Friday, including van Gerwen's all-Dutch clash with van Barneveld.
Van Gerwen has recovered from the bout of 'flu which caused him to miss last weekend's ProTour double-header in Coventry, and said: "I'm feeling a lot better now and I can't wait to back into action.
"It's a great feeling to be going back to Minehead as reigning champion and I'll be giving it everything to keep my title this weekend, but I know how tough it will be just to get past the first round against Raymond.
"We know each other really well and we've had so many great games, but Friday is a new match and I've got to make sure that I play well."
Van Gerwen enters the tournament as the number two seed behind Gary Anderson, whose seventh PDC ProTour win of the year last Sunday saw him move ahead of the Dutchman to top the 2014 ProTour Order of Merit, from which the event's 32 competitors are selected.
Scottish star Anderson has dazzled on the circuit this year, winning the opening European Tour event in Germany at the start of February before book-ending the season with last weekend's triumph.
He takes on Dutchman Christian Kist, the former Lakeside Champion, in Friday's first round, and said: "It's a great achievement to have topped the ProTour Order of Merit for 2014 and one I'm proud of.
"Every ProTour event is so tough but I've enjoyed myself on the circuit this year and I want to take that into this tournament.
"I've not played as well as I want to in the recent TV events so I'm looking forward to getting to Minehead."
Three-time Players Championship Finals winner Phil Taylor begins his bid to regain the title against Ronnie Baxter in Friday's evening session, with the Stoke great having recently claimed the Grand Slam of Darts title in Wolverhampton.
"I was delighed with how I played in Wolverhampton and I'm looking to hopefully continue that in Minehead," said Taylor. "Ronnie's a tough cookie so I'll have to be ready for him, but I'm looking forward to it."
Friday's afternoon session will feature 2011 Players Championship Finals winner Kevin Painter, who takes on Northern Ireland's Brendan Dolan.
Former finalists Kim Huybrechts and Mervyn King take on Terry Jenkins and Andrew Gilding respectively, while number three seed Michael Smith takes on Andy Smith.
Australian star Simon Whitlock meets Dean Winstanley, former UK Open champion Robert Thornton meets Darren Webster, two-time semi-finalist Justin Pipe - who has reached the last four in Minehead in the past two years - plays Wes Newton and Ian White meets Jamie Caven.
The evening session opens as Lakeside Champion Stephen Bunting makes his debut in the event against Steve Beaton, while Vincent van der Voort meets Andy Hamilton and in-form James Wade takes on Jelle Klaasen.
Adrian Lewis - the UK Open winner at Minehead in March - plays recent Grand Slam of Darts runner-up Dave Chisnall and World Championship finalist Peter Wright plays Benito van de Pas.
The tournament continues on Saturday with the second round across two sessions, with the quarter-finals on Sunday before the destiny of the title is decided on Sunday evening with the semi-finals and final.
Friday November 28
Afternoon Session (12.45pm-5pm)
- Ian White v Jamie Caven
- Justin Pipe v Wes Newton
- Brendan Dolan v Kevin Painter
- Robert Thornton v Darren Webster
- Kim Huybrechts v Terry Jenkins
- Michael Smith v Andy Smith
- Simon Whitlock v Dean Winstanley
- Mervyn King v Andrew Gilding
Evening Session (7pm-11pm)
- Stephen Bunting v Steve Beaton
- Vincent van der Voort v Andy Hamilton
- James Wade v Jelle Klaasen
- Adrian Lewis v Dave Chisnall
- Phil Taylor v Ronnie Baxter
- Gary Anderson v Christian Kist
- Michael van Gerwen v Raymond van Barneveld
- Peter Wright v Benito van de Pas
All games are the best of 11 legs