This weekend’s Masters event holds more intrigue than ever before.
The non-ranking event, which is open to the world’s top 24 players this year, is a significant prize in itself. But the potential carrot of a Premier League spot for the 15 players in the field who are not already included brings an added incentive.
The Premier League will not start until Easter-time, with the final pick being announced some time after the Masters, according to PDC chief Matt Porter.
Ahead of this weekend’s major, we assess the players in the hunt for the 10th Premier League spot.
The front runners…
Five players who are no strangers to the Premier League, and head the chasing pack…
A constant question surrounding the Bully Boy is when, rather than if, he lands a big televised title.
The 30-year-old has reached the final in the sport’s biggest tournaments, including the World Championship, Matchplay and Premier League.
He remains a household name in darts, but a shock Ally Pally loss to Jason Lowe last month perhaps cost him an automatic pick. Nonetheless, if he can navigate an admittedly tricky draw this weekend and make it through to the latter stages, Smith will have a convincing case for inclusion.
Another top-10 ranked star who is yet to land a big one. But Chizzy’s game is right up there with the best, and he showed exactly what he is capable of in his stunning 5-0 World Championship quarter-final win over Michael van Gerwen.
He has always boasted scoring power, but crucially he found his range on the outer ring last month.
A Premier League semi-finalist in 2015, Chisnall has been a mainstay in the tournament in the past, and many speculated if his showings at the Alexandra Palace would be enough to propel him to another Premier League appearance.
Perhaps his defeat to Gary Anderson in the penultimate stage cost him, but the world No 6 is favourite in many people’s eyes to get the last spot on offer.
- Lloyd backs Chisnall for final Premier League spot
Really pleased to have won The Televised Performance of the Year. Thank you to those who voted, thanks to the PDC and all involved. This means alot pic.twitter.com/Sq5vbxda8b
‘Super Chin’ had a poor year by his own high standards, but looked like he was going to kick 2021 off in style when he was embroiled in an Ally Pally epic with Gerwyn Price at the quarter-final stage.
The two-time major winner’s chances slipped away in the last-leg decider, and perhaps with them his shot at retaining his Premier League berth.
Nonetheless, nobody doubts his abilities for a second. And a run deep into the Masters tournament this weekend could well see him re-join the world’s elite on Thursday nights.
Anybody who beats Michael van Gerwen in three separate majors in a calendar year could reasonably expect to collect silverware.
It didn’t quite happen for the Wizard, in spite of his ‘hoodoo’ over the Green Machine.
But it was an impressive year on tour nonetheless, after a forgettable 2019 for the Australian. Whitlock reached the finals of the Grand Slam and Grand Prix, along with a quarter-final appearance at the World Matchplay.
He is another player who needs to deliver at the Masters if he is to win a Premier League spot for the first time since 2018.
It was a mixed 2020 for the Machine, who couldn’t quite get over the line for his first major title since 2018. Wade lost finals in both the Grand Slam and the European Championship.
He boasts real Premier League pedigree; only Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld have appeared more times, and he scooped the trophy in 2009.
The 37-year-old possesses an innate ability to play the board rather than the opponent – a rare skill in darts. Having won nearly every honour in the game, he is rarely found wanting for composure.
Everyone is aware of his ability, but he may need a run at Milton Keynes this weekend to stake his claim.
In with a shout…
The following players need a big performance at the Masters this weekend…
The resurgent former Lakeside champ returned to his best last month, reaching the World Championship semi-finals.
His consistency shone through as he defied his lowly seeding of 26 to reach the last four. Indeed, he perhaps was left with a tinge of regret that he had not beaten Price in the semi-final, having led 4-3 in a race to six.
However, his Ally Pally showing was a bolt from the blue, given his otherwise quiet 2020 campaign. He will be hoping to prove it was no flash in the pan this weekend.
Oh, what might have been for the Rockstar. The world No 16 looked to be on the cusp of the biggest win of his career at the World Championship, but fell agonisingly short against MVG in an epic encounter. Nonetheless, he showed he can mix it with the very best, and will be hoping to deliver such performances on a more consistent basis.
The problem with the No 16 ranking position means you often bump into the top seed in tournaments, and Gerwyn Price lies in wait this weekend should Cullen overcome Bunting in the first round.
But the Bradford native will see an opportunity; if he takes down the Iceman, it will force people to stand up and take notice.
Ranked 11th in the world, tied with Gurney, the Diamond is well regarded as one of the sport’s very best on the circuit. However, he has yet to deliver at a big televised event.
Impressive form at floor tournaments will only get you so far, and White needs a big one to considered for an invitational tournament like the Premier League.
In truth, he would need to win the Masters this weekend in order to be selected.
The Polish Eagle was held in similar esteem to White until recently: lethal in Players Championship events but as of yet unproven on the big stage.
However, Ratajski has gone about proving his credentials in televised events over the last few months.
He reached the quarter-finals of both the Matchplay and World Championship, and is rapidly improving. As the sport’s global appeal grows, a Polish addition to the Premier League could appeal to the Premier League.
The long shots…
Some left-field options?
Many considered Dirk van Duijvenbode desperately unlucky not to make the initial list, after the Dutchman enjoyed a breakthrough year. The problem for the ‘Aubergenius’ is that he is not ranked inside the top 24 on the Order of Merit, and thus cannot make an impression at the Masters this weekend.
There is no great bank of evidence to suggest Adrian Lewis is in form, but a CV containing two world titles speaks for itself. Should Jackpot pull something special out of the fire this weekend, and deliver a first televised title since the 2016 World Cup, he would be impossible to ignore.
Raymond van Barneveld‘s name has been mentioned in some quarters. The five-time world champ enters Q-School next month, but it remains unlikely that he would be considered for the 2021 Premier League.
Meanwhile, Lisa Ashton‘s breakthrough year as a tour-card holder gets her a mention in this conversation, should the powers-that-be elect to take a fresh approach, but once again it appears improbable.
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