Something seismic has happened in darts betting and it may have gone unnoticed by the casual sports punter: for the first time since 1990, Phil Taylor is not the ante-post favourite to win the season’s biggest darts tournament.
Taylor burst on to the scene in the late 1980s, winning the 1988 Canadian Open and reaching the semi-finals of the 1989 World Masters. Taylor was an unseeded 125-1 outsider when he participated in the 1990 BDO World Championship but he beat Russell Stewart (3-1), Dennis Hickling (3-0), Ronnie Sharp (4-2), Cliff Lazarenko (5-0) and his mentor, Eric Bristow (6-1), to claim the first of his 16 world titles.
Even though Taylor did not win the world championships of 1991 (quarter-finalist), 1993 (second round), 1994 (runner-up), 2003 (runner-up), 2007 (runner-up), 2008 (quarter-finalist), 2011 (quarter-finalist) and 2012 (second round), The Power was the favourite with bookmakers for every event and an odds-on favourite during his really dominant phase from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s.
But Taylor’s up-and-down form in the 2013 Premier League Darts competition, combined with the strong performances of Michael van Gerwen, have persuaded some bookmakers to list the Dutch youngster at the top of their early markets on this year’s PDC World Championship at the Alexandra Palace.
All up, the best odds available about Van Gerwen winning his first PDC World Championship crown are 3-1, with 16-time winner Taylor trading at odds of around 7-2, something that would have been utterly unthinkable this time last year.
The question that punters have to ask themselves is this: is Taylor over the hill and vulnerable like never before as he marches towards his 53rd birthday in August? If one answers no, the 7-2 on offer about Taylor taking out the 2014 PDC World Championship title are well worth snapping up.
While Taylor is getting on in years, he would not become the oldest world darts champion if he won the 2014 PDC World Championship in nine months from now. Martin Adams was 55 when he won the third of his BDO World Championship crowns so there is a precedent for being a veteran darts king.
And then there is the format of the PDC World Championship to consider, with the longer matches playing into the hands of Taylor. Dave Chisnall upset Taylor in the 2012 tournament when he beat The Power 4-1 in their best-of-seven-set second round tie. But with the quarter-finals over nine sets, the semi-finals over 11 sets and the final over 13 sets, the probability of a freak result in which Taylor loses to a mediocre player diminishes as the competition progresses.
Taylor has had an uncharacteristically ordinary start to the 2013 Premier League Darts tournament but The Power is in the top four and he has not become a bad player overnight. Also, last year Taylor registered two of his highest three career match averages, outputting 117.35 in beating Simon Whitlock and 116.10 in defeating James Wade. Taylor has got it still.
There is little doubt that Van Gerwen is the most naturally darts player to emerge for many years, perhaps ever. But the jury remains out as to whether Mighty Mike has the mental fortitude to win the major events such as the PDC World Championship, with the Dutchman having only landed one significant PDC title since making the switch in 2007.
Another area of Van Gerwen’s game on which he needs to work is his finishing. Van Gerwen’s is top of the 2013 Premier League Darts ladder after 11 action-packed rounds but his checkout percentage is only the sixth best. Doubles and bullseyes win legs, sets and matches and Van Gerwen cannot afford to rely on his incredible ability to pump out 180s. If Van Gerwen hits a rough patch with his scoring then he will be vulnerable to anyone who can finish off legs.
Taylor is the best finisher in the business and that is why one should be looking to back him to win the 2014 PDC World Championship at odds of 7-2 (at BetVictor) instead of Van Gerwen at 3-1. There is a very, very, very good chance that holders of 7-2 tickets about Taylor winning the biggest prize in darts for the 17th time will be well ahead of the bookmakers before the event gets under way at the Alexandra Palace.