It has been a World Championship jam-packed with upsets and unlikely scenarios and, as the action gets back underway post-Christmas, it’s time to consider maybe the most unlikely of all endings.
The world number one Michael van Gerwen has made smooth progress through two rounds and looks set for more of the same when he faces Gerwyn Price in the last-16. Mighty Mike has retained his post as odds-on 5/8 favourite to win a third world title.
Meanwhile, the Phil Taylor’s Farewell Tour stayed on target for world title number 17 when he overcame villain of the peace Justin Pipe amid a tense atmosphere in round two.
The Power suggested he ‘isn’t playing well enough to win’ the tournament afterwards and, with a three-dart average of 99, it is easy enough to agree with him.
This tournament has created major hype around Taylor, justifiably, as he prepares to bid a final farewell to the sport that he routinely dominated for nigh-on two decades.
In that time, did any player suffer more at the hand of Taylor than his would-be great rival Raymond van Barneveld? The Dutchman, five-times a world champion in his own right, did of course enjoy a famous success in 2007 at the Circus Tavern when he edged Taylor out in a sudden-death leg at the end of a cliffhanger.
Thereafter, the rivalry between these darting superstars was routinely one-sided in Taylor’s favour. The Englishman effectively goaded Barney down the years with faint praise on the back of another often facile win.
Beneath it was an undercurrent that emerged in 2013 when Taylor caused a stir with a full-on row on stage after he survived a Barney fightback to win their semi-final 6-4. The Stoke thrower lost many admirers there, while van Barneveld gained them for his dignity in defeat.
Fast forward and we have the Taylor lap of honour in full swing. Could Barney be the man to have the last laugh by winning his first world title since 2007? He is certainly playing well enough, averaging 102 in his two wins so far.
He faces great friend Vincent van der Voort in the last-16 before a scheduled showdown with MVG in the last-eight.
Facing two Dutchmen in succession would arguably be ideal for the veteran, as Barney takes immense prided in being top dog in the Netherlands (though van Gerwen will, in time, likely alter that stat).
Barney eliminated van Gerwen two years ago while their semi-final clash last year was, to many, the highest quality ever produced in a televised darts match (MVG averaged 114, Barney 109 for eight sets). Facing van Gerwen on the Ally Pally stages brings the absolute best from van Barneveld.
He’s 28/1 to clinch the title and looks a decent option, despite the imminent clash with the top seed. If the darting scriptwriters could somehow pit van Barneveld against Taylor in one last final, well, that would truly be must-see sporting theatre to begin 2018, giving Barney the chance to cut The Power for the last time with an act of revenge from his long-standing rival.
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