World Championship Contenders- Phil Taylor

P Taylor.jpg
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

With the 2016 PDC World Championships set to begin at the Alexandra Palace tomorrow night, I assess the chances of the man who has won the World Championship title on a record 16 occasions….

2. Phil Taylor

After enduring one of the most testing years in his professional career, Phil Taylor will be vying for his 17th World Championship crown when he begins his campaign at the Ally Pally on Saturday evening.

‘The Power’ has not won a major TV title since the 2014 Grand Slam of Darts, last November. Taylor has also slipped to 3rd in the PDC Order of Merit, his lowest world ranking since the new system was devised over a decade ago.

Nevertheless, discussion over Taylor’s impending demise are extremely premature. Although he doesn’t currently hold a PDC major title, he is still competing at a very high-level and is a major contender to win the Sid Waddell trophy this year.

Taylor’s averages in 2015 suggest he is playing as well as ever. However, the standard in the game is at an all-time high, whilst the air of invincibility Taylor has possessed for so many years is slowly eradicating.

For the first-time in the history of Premier League, Taylor failed to secure a top-four spot in 2015, as he finished in 5th position as the league phase concluded in May.

His old adversary Raymond van Barneveld enjoyed a remarkable winning run and displaced the Power in the top four, although the Stoke star had personal problems to contend with, following the passing of his mother in mid-January.

Taylor was beaten in the UK Open quarter-finals by an inspired Peter Wright in March. The 16-Time World Champion lost 10-6, despite averaging 108.57 and posting eight maximums. Wright was absolutely clinical, hitting 56% on his doubles and averaging 102.99 himself.

The Power did win the World Cup of Darts with Adrian Lewis for the third-time, as England defeated the Scottish duo of Gary Anderson and Peter Wright. Nevertheless, just a month later, Taylor suffered World Matchplay heartbreak.

Phil had enjoyed a seven-year reign as World Matchplay Champion, although his streak was ended in the semi-finals by James Wade, as ‘The Machine’ condemned Taylor to a 17-14 defeat. Taylor averaged 103.69 to Wade’s 97, although missed doubles proved very costly for the 55-year-old.

Taylor regained his winning formula down-under in the World Series of Darts, following up his victory in the Japan Darts Masters with tournament wins in both Perth and Sydney. Nevertheless, as these tournaments are unranked exhibition events, the prize money won doesn’t contribute towards the Order of Merit.

Taylor suffered a surprise first-round exit at the World Grand-Prix in October, losing 2-0 to an excellent Vincent van der Voort. The Power averaged 97, which is particularly impressive in the double-in format, but a couple of indifferent legs were punished by the Dutch giant.

The trend of Taylor performing extremely well but just coming up short has been replicated throughout 2015. In November’s European Championships, Taylor was beaten 10-9 in the last-eight by his former protege Adrian Lewis.

Taylor trailed 9-6 against his fellow Stokie, but he fought back to force a last-leg decider. However, the advantage of throw proved decisive and saw Lewis progress, despite Taylor posting an average in excess of 106.

The Power produced an admirable defence of his Grand Slam title in Wolverhampton last month, where he was narrowly defeated by Michael van Gerwen in a thrilling final. Taylor led 7-3 at one stage, but the Dutchman fought back to claim a 16-13 victory.

Taylor is arguably scoring as well as ever; his 180 count this year has been particularly high. However, he was again left to rue vulnerabilities on the doubles at the Grand Slam. Van Gerwen won five successive legs to move 8-7 up in the final, but Taylor had chances in four of those legs.

That clinical and ruthless edge which saw Taylor wear down opponents over the years, is the main facet of his game that is currently lacking. Taylor’s main problem over the last 18 months has been his fallibility on D8 and D16.

These particular segments arguably cost him in last year’s World Championship final against Gary Anderson. He missed 2 clear darts at D8 for a 5-4 lead, whilst he missed a further 3 darts at D16 to level up proceedings in the thirteenth and final set.

Taylor is 9/2 with title sponsor William Hill to win his 17th World title; he has never been longer odds for a PDC World Championship. His profligacy on the D8/D16 segments is perhaps the catalyst for this, but the fact remains that Taylor is still throwing some superb darts. He’ll be extremely tough to beat, particularly over a longer set format.

Phil begins his pursuit for another World title against the winner of the preliminary tie between Keita Ono of Japan, or Alex Tagarao from the Philippines. With all due respect to both men, Taylor couldn’t have asked for a kinder opening-round tie.

The Power could face Kevin Painter in round-two, in a repeat of their 2004 World Final. Painter has endured a difficult 18 months and is on the verge of slipping outside the World’s Top 32. Nevertheless, ‘The Artist’ is a class act and thrives on the big occasion, so Taylor certainly won’t underestimate him.

If Taylor were to progress to the last 16, he would probably face the winner of the potential second-round tie between Mervyn King and Jelle Klaasen. Despite being the higher ranked player, King has been struggling desperately for form recently, so the 2006 Lakeside winner would arguably be favourite to ‘de-throne’ King.

Robert Thornton would be Taylor’s likely quarter-final opponent, although Terry Jenkins and Mark Webster may have something to say about that.

Taylor comprehensively beat the Scot 16-6 in their last meeting at the Grand Slam, although Thornton has got previous against Phil on the big-stage. Thornton defeated Taylor in the 2012 UK Open final, whilst he also knocked him out of the 2012 World Grand-Prix, therefore facing Robert would be far from a formality for the 16-Time World Champ.

If Taylor reaches the last-four, he could face Gary Anderson in a repeat of last year’s final. Nevertheless, James Wade could also be a major threat. Wade has been throwing very well without reward of late; he could be this year’s surprise package.

On paper, Taylor is in the ‘better’ half of the draw, as he’ll avoid many of the world’s most in-form men, up until the final at least. However, there are potential stumbling blocks from round-two onwards for the Stoke legend to contend with.

Phil notoriously produces his best on the World Championship stage and he’ll be desperate to end his major drought in the biggest tournament of them all. If he can regain the clutch-doubling that saw him dominate the sport of darts for well over a decade, Phil could be clutching his 17th World Championship crown come January 3rd.

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