One of the most anticipated tournaments on the PDC calendar, the UK Open Finals, gets underway at Minehead this Friday. I love almost every aspect of the event; the random draw, amateur players getting the chance to face the world’s best, and the intense atmosphere created across eight stages of simultaneous darting drama. Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Gary Anderson and defending Champion Adrian Lewis are the obvious favourites, but the unpredictability caused by the open draw often caters for surprises, with the likes of Mark Walsh, Barrie Bates and Gary Mawson all recent finalists. Which ‘outsiders’ are best placed for an excellent run in Minehead? These are my 6 dark-horses to claim the crown…
Vincent van der Voort
Vincent van der Voort has been in a rich vein of form over the last six months. The imposing Dutchman has been plagued by a long-term back problem over recent years, which has inevitably adversely affected his form, however he has begun to establish consistency within his game. Until the second set of UK Open Qualifiers a fortnight ago, van der Voort had reached at least the quarter-finals of six successive ranking events.
This included a Players Championship semi-final appearance in November and a quarter-final spot at the Worlds, where he was edged out 5-3 by Phil Taylor. Van der Voort was also the runner-up in the 2nd UK Open Qualifier, where he was comprehensively beaten by his irrepressible friend and countryman van Gerwen.
The 39-year-old is a prolific scorer, which he has demonstrated to full-effect over recent months. Additionally, his combination finishing is particularly impressive, but with 3 clear darts at a double, he occasionally falters. He can miss crucial doubles in bulk, for example at the Grand Slam against Raymond van Barneveld, van der Voort missed seven match darts in the deciding leg.
In fairness, van der Voort has vastly improved the finishing element of his game. In the World Championship 1st round against John Henderson, The Dutch Destroyer hit a phenomenal 157 C/O, with the Scot sitting on 80 to win the match. It just shows how much character and ‘bottle’ Vincent has, which is an invaluable quality.
Van der Voort has previous at the UK Open. He reached the final in his first year as a PDC professional, losing 16-8 to his compatriot Raymond van Barneveld. He has the pedigree, he has the form, and with an open draw, he will be confident of having an excellent run, as he closes in on a top 16 spot.
Tournament Odds: 66-1
Mark Webster has enjoyed a mini-renaissance in 2015. Webster was given a wildcard spot for the 2011 Premier League, but he really struggled to make an impact; finishing bottom of the table with 5pts from 14 games. Many claim that Webster’s disappointing Premier League campaign was the catalyst for his downfall, but he maintained impressive consistency on the Pro Tour during the next 12 months. His downfall was actually sparked by his poor Pro Tour form in 2013.
Webster reached the semi-finals of UK Open Qualifier 1, his first ranking semi-final for three years, which is incredible for a player of his quality. The 2008 Lakeside World Champion previously admitted that a slump in form resulted in problems with his throw. He denied that he had dartitis, although it was noticeable that there was a judder and a lack of fluency within his throw.
However, Webster’s tenacity and character is the reason he has maintained a top 32 spot. His run to the 2014 World Championship quarter-finals epitomised his grit and determination. He was far from his best, but battled through, which included a fine 4-3 win over Raymond van Barneveld in the last 16.
In the six UK Open qualifiers, Webster reached one semi-final and made two last 16 appearances, finishing 9th on the overall UK Open order of merit. Webster is an excellent match-player, in a similar mould to James Wade and John Part; he may not record consistent ton-plus averages, but he has an invaluable knack of doing enough to beat his opponent.
Webster has proven quality. He is a former Lakeside World Champion and a two-time PDC World Championship Semi-Finalist. Therefore, unlike some, he is certainly proven on the main stage, and will be relishing the opportunity to make an impression on the television again.
Tournament Odds: 125-1
Mensur Suljovic- the man that can be aptly described as ‘unconventional’. Suljovic is a very dangerous and underrated player; he is a solid finisher and a prolific scorer. Admittedly he is a spotter’s nightmare; he has a strong affinity for D14, but in fairness he hits it with regularity.
Suljovic reached the UK Open quarter-finals 12 months ago, where he lost 10-3 to a rampant Adrian Lewis; but the mercurial Austrian put in a commendable performance, averaging 98.03. Suljovic is now a better player, having gained more crucial stage experience; this is why the European Tour events are so beneficial for players of Suljovic’s calibre.
The Austrian is on the verge of breaking into the World’s top 32; he currently sits in 36th spot, which is a remarkable feat when you consider that he rarely participates on the Pro Tour circuit. He has been rather unfortunate on television recently; he suffered a first-round World Championships exit to Michael Smith in December. The Austrian had the highest losing average of any 1st round casualty, but Bully-Boy was in inspired form.
He has transferred that form to the floor in 2015 too. He reached the quarter-final of the 1st UK Open qualifier, before reaching the semi-finals of the German Darts Masters, which included fine victories over Kim Huybrechts, Michael Smith and Robert Thornton. Suljovic consistently averages in the high 90s and his methodical pace can certainly trouble his opponents. He has a reputation of being a giant-killer, so could thrive in this format. He will enter the competition in the 3rd round stage after finishing in 18th on the overall order of merit, and it’s fair to say many top players will be keen to avoid the Austrian ace.
Tournament Odds: 150-1
I fancy Pipe to have a good run at Minehead. He has recently regained his place in the World’s top 16 after reaching the quarter-finals at the German Darts Masters, whilst he enjoyed a successful UK Open qualification campaign, finishing 16th overall. This included two-quarter-final appearances, where he lost to Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld respectively.
Pipe has a special affinity with the Minehead venue. His best major performances have come at Minehead, he reached the Players Championship semi-finals for two successive years in 2012 and 2013. The venue is particularly close to his home in Taunton, so home-comfort could be a factor for the success he’s enjoyed there.
The UK Open can be quite a physically and mentally gruelling event. The pressure on the players is intensified due to the open draw, and to win the tournament, you must win three matches on the final day. Fitness and endurance is becomingly an increasingly prominent factor in winning tour events, you need to maintain a consistent level of performance over a full day’s play. Pipe has proved he has these credentials; he has won 5 Pro Tour events and a European tour event. ‘The Force’ keeps himself in shape, so tiredness should not be a factor for him.
As previously mentioned, Pipe has enjoyed success on both the main stage and the floor, which is extremely important in this tournament, because he will probably have to alternate between both. Pipe has admitted on his twitter account that he is practising well and he appears in confident mood. The 43-year-old has struggled to make an impression at the UK Open in recent years; his best result has been a last 32 appearance. I fancy him to better that statistic over the weekend.
Tournament Odds: 80-1
At odds of 125-1, Gilding is an excellent potential bet. There is a strong case for claiming that Gilding is the most underrated player on the PDC tour. He has been in sparkling form in 2015 thus far, reaching the semi-finals of UK Open Qualifier 4, which included fine victories over van Barneveld and Lewis. In his quarter-final against Lewis, Gilding’s first 9 dart average was an INCREDIBLE 390. That is absolutely unplayable!
In 2014, he first rose to prominence after reaching a Pro Tour Final, beating Raymond van Barneveld, James Wade and Phil Taylor in one afternoon. He is yet to replicate his floor form on the main stage, although he has been slightly unfortunate on TV thus far. He was whitewashed 10-0 by Lewis at the World Matchplay last-year, but Jackpot averaged over 110, whilst he was beaten 3-0 in the first round of the World Championships against Robert Thornton, despite Goldfinger averaging a respectable 92.
The beauty of this competition is that you can reach the latter stages of the tournament whilst completely going under the radar. Gilding would probably prefer to play his matches away from the main stage, although he doesn’t seem particularly perturbed by the television cameras. The main question mark with Gilding is whether he can sustain his form; he has demonstrated his quality on several occasions, but to win a tournament of this nature, you cannot afford one mediocre display. However, when you’ve beaten the likes of Taylor, Wade, Lewis and van Barneveld, you are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Tournament Odds: 125-1
James Wilson has certainly made quite an impression since switching from the BDO in January. Wilson joined the PDC off the back of a desperately disappointing 1st round World Championships exit to the colourful Peter Sajwani. However, that showing did not reflect the Jammie Dodger’s quality.
One of Wilson’s most impressive attributes is his unflappable nature. He appears completely unfazed by big name opponents, which is illustrated by the big scalps he has taken during his short time in the PDC. He beat Dave Chisnall 6-2 in a European Tour qualifier, hitting finishes of 121, 144 and 164.
In the UK Open qualifiers, Wilson also took the scalps of Brendan Dolan, Ian White and World Champion Gary Anderson. He also came close to beating Phil Taylor, losing 6-4 in the last 32 of UK Open Qualifier 6.
Wilson will enter the UK Open at the second round stage and faces a difficult test in the shape of Mark Frost. Wilson is a proven winner, having won the Zuiderduin Masters and the BDO World Trophy, whilst he is also a former World Masters finalist, so he knows what it takes to win major titles. No-one is completely sure how Wilson will fare in his first PDC major, but several top players will be hoping to avoid him, particularly in the early stages.
Tournament Odds: 125-1
There are many other credible candidates who haven’t got a mention due to the strength in depth within the PDC. I think the winner of William O’Connor and Dean Winstanley, who face off in round two, could have a deep run. But who are your dark-horses for the UK Open? Please let me know by leaving your opinions in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!