One of the most anticipated tournaments on the PDC calendar, the World Grand Prix, gets under way at the Citywest in Dublin this Sunday. This is the only tournament on the PDC calendar where you must start and finish on a double; along with the short format, this adds to the sheer unpredictability of the event. Defending Champion Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Gary Anderson and James Wade are the stand-out favourites, but in such a strong field, upsets are inevitable. These are my 6 darkhorses to claim the crown…
Ian White is arguably the most underrated player on the PDC circuit! He has been a pillar of consistency on the Pro Tour this year; winning his first Pro Tour title of 2015 in an epic-last leg decider against Dave Chisnall on Friday, having reached three finals previously this year. He has also appeared in four semi-finals, including two on the European Tour.
In addition, his run to the quarter-finals of the World Matchplay, where he was edged out by Michael van Gerwen in a classic encounter, propelled him into the World’s top ten. He is a consistent performer and a reliable double-hitter, so the format should certainly suit the Stoke star.
He faces his best-friend Jamie Caven in the first-round. It’s never easy playing a close friend, but White’s current form and experience makes him favourite. If he were to progress against Jabba, he faces the prospect of reigning World Champion Gary Anderson in the last 16; but the Scot has been struggling recently, so White could be confident of upsetting the apple cart.
I believe White is a genuine contender for a wildcard in next year’s Premier League. The only thing missing from his resume is a deep run in a major tournament. He has never reached a TV semi-final, which is surprising given his immense ability and composure. However, this could be the week where he resolves that particular statistic.
It sounds rather foolish to label a two-time major winner and current World Number 7 as an outsider for a tournament, but the bookies have Thornton priced at a huge 66/1 to taste victory in Dublin. The Thorn has a rather underwhelming record in this tournament over recent years; the furthest he’s got is the quarter-finals in 2012, when he claimed a shock victory over Phil Taylor.
Last year, Thornton suffered a last 16 defeat to James Wade, but he played his part in arguably the greatest ever match at the tournament. Wade won 3-2, but both men hit incredible 9-dart finishes. Prior to that encounter, only Brendan Dolan had hit a double-in 9-darter, but that tally was trebled by Wade and Thornton.
The Scot is a deadly D20 hitter; when he’s at his best it’s virtually unmissable for him, so he will undoubtedly be a major contender this week. He faces home-favourite Daryl Gurney in a tricky first-round tie. Gurney is a prolific maximum hitter and a real-power scorer, but Thornton is equally proficient in terms of 180 hitting. Gurney has been in fine form recently; reaching the quarter-finals of Friday’s Players Championship event in Dublin, but his lack of TV experience hands Thornton the initiative.
At the start of 2015, Robert Thornton maintained that his main focus was to win a maiden World Grand Prix title. If he can progress against Gurney and the partisan Dublin crowd, this ambition may become a reality.
Two years ago, Simon Whitlock would have been one of the favourites to win this tournament. However, his decline over the last 18 months has been alarming. He has endured a miserable run in TV ranking majors. At the World Matchplay in July, he finally halted a shocking losing run, spanning almost 12 months, in the first round of majors.
Inconsistency has plagued Whitlock’s game over the past year. When he first joined the PDC, he was one of the most consistent and relentless double hitters in world darts, but he has demonstrated alarming fragility in key stages of matches, as his form and results continue to disappoint. Nevertheless, there have been encouraging signs in recent months; his performances have significantly improved and whilst results are still rather patchy; his form is clearly returning.
He reached the semi-finals of last Sunday’s Players Championship event in Barnsley, where he lost in a last-leg decider to eventual winner Jelle Klaasen. Whitlock averaged over 100 for the vast majority of the day and that will give him tremendous belief heading into Dublin. He will meet Andrew Gilding in round one, but after a stunning start to 2015, Gilding’s form has declined somewhat.
Goldfinger reached the semi-finals of the 2015 Coral UK Open in March, losing to Michael van Gerwen 10-8, despite posting a 108 average. He also reached four Pro Tour semi-finals prior to July, but since returning from a long mid-season break, he has failed to progress further than the last 32.
Gilding undoubtedly has the ability, but as Whitlock is unseeded for this event, he should be reasonably happy with his draw. This could be the tournament that revitalises Simon Whitlock!
Like Ian White, Suljovic has a claim to be the most underrated player in the PDC. For the first-time in his career, Suljovic has competed full-time on the Pro Tour circuit this year and it’s certainly paid dividends. He has been fantastic on the Pro Tour circuit and he’s also impressed in front of the TV cameras.
Suljovic reached the quarter-finals of the Coral UK Open, whilst he also enjoyed a run to the last eight at the World Matchplay in July. He shocked Terry Jenkins and World Champion Gary Anderson, before narrowly losing to James Wade, who ironically, is his first-round opponent in Dublin.
Wade has enjoyed a tremendous record in Dublin over the years; he has won the competition on two occasions and he was a losing finalist in 2014, so the Austrian will rightly be the outsider. Despite this, he shouldn’t be written off. Suljovic loves causing upsets; he memorably shocked Wade in the 2011 World Championships, whilst he comprehensively dispatched Gary Anderson in Blackpool this year.
Suljovic has reached 9 ranking quarter-finals in 2015, which is an extremely impressive statistic, and testament to his consistency. He has also broken into the World’s top 32 and his unorthodox style adds to his charm. Incidentally, he has faced Wade 7 times, winning four and losing three. Their results have alternated and Suljovic beat Wade 6-5 in the last 16 of Friday’s Players Championship.
Suljovic’s preferred double of choice is D14, but it’s extremely effective for him. Over the short format, he is a massive danger and Wade will have to be at his ‘Machine-like’ best to combat the Austrian enigma.
Another man who has been performing extremely well on the floor in 2015 is Jelle Klaasen. The Dutchman won his second Pro Tour title of 2015 with a 6-4 victory over Raymond van Barneveld in last Sunday’s Players Championship event in Barnsley.
The former Lakeside winner is on the verge of breaking into the World’s top 20, whilst he is in the top 10 of the Pro Tour Order of Merit, which demonstrates how consistent the 30-year-old has been on a very competitive circuit. He has always possessed immense talent, but his game has evolved considerably over the past 18 months and he’s far more reliable; particularly on his doubles.
He faces Brendan Dolan for a place in the last 16 on Sunday, although Dolan will have the unequivocal support of the home crowd; his form has dwindled in recent months and Klaasen will be confident.
The Cobra admittedly has plenty of room for improvement in respect of his television performances. He hasn’t reached the quarter-finals of a TV major since the European Championships in October last year. Despite this, he’s in a rich vein of form and his confidence is sky-high, so there’s no better time for Jelle to fulfil his bursting potential.
Terry Jenkins remains the best player in PDC history never to win a major tournament. He has reached seven finals, but has come up against inspired performances against Phil Taylor, Raymond van Barneveld, Michael van Gerwen, James Wade and Adrian Lewis.
However, at the age of 52, he is still playing stunning darts. He tasted victory on his birthday in Barnsley last Saturday, beating Peter Wright 6-4 with a superb 108 average to win just his third Pro Tour title since 2009. He remains one of the most tenacious opponents on the circuit and he faces fellow veteran Mervyn King in the opening round.
King is a formidable opponent, but Jenkins is throwing some excellent darts and will be quietly confident of progressing; his extra scoring power could be the critical factor. He has a special affinity with Dublin; having reached the final of the World Grand Prix twice. Will it be third-time lucky for the Raging Bull in 2015?