The 2016 Coral UK Open gets underway in Minehead on Friday afternoon as Michael van Gerwen looks to defend his title in the most unpredictable major tournament on the darting calendar. In the thirteen years since this event began, there have been thirteen different finalists. Josh’s Dartistry looks at 6 potential outsiders for the crown this year.
Alan Norris is one of the form men in the PDC at present. The 2014 Lakeside finalist made the switch in January 2015 and after a difficult start initially, ‘Chuck’ has produced a series of fine performances in the past six months, which saw him reach the quarter-finals at Alexandra Palace in his maiden PDC World Championship appearance.
Norris won his first PDC ranking title last October, in a Players Championship event in Ireland. This saw Alan qualify for the European Championships and the Players Championship Finals and he’s gone from strength-to-strength from this moment onwards.
‘Chuck’ has made a very impressive start to 2016, enjoying a fine UK Open qualification campaign. After the six qualification events, Norris finished 7th on the overall Order of Merit, by virtue of reaching the final of UK Open qualifier 2. As a consequence, he will enter the tournament in the third-round stage on Friday evening.
Norris currently occupies 35th place on the PDC Order of Merit and with a good run at Minehead, he will surely break into the world’s elite top 32. Considering he only switched to the PDC little over 12 months ago, this is a remarkable achievement, and because he isn’t defending any prize money in 2016, he will continue to rise throughout the year.
Alan has a fantastic chance of enjoying a fine run this weekend. He’s full of confidence and the open-draw format could benefit him. His scoring power is undoubtedly his strength and he is particularly prolific on the maximum front. If he can hit his doubles consistently, his tournament odds of 66/1 are very enticing.
Mensur Suljovic is unquestionably one of the most under-rated players on the PDC circuit. The Austrian enjoyed a remarkable 2015 which saw him climb inside the world’s top 20; now the top 16 is in Suljovic’ sight.
Mensur displayed tremendous consistency in last year’s televised majors. He was beaten in the quarter-finals at Minehead by Andrew Gilding twelve months ago, before securing a World Matchplay quarter-final berth, along with semi-final appearances in both the World Grand-Prix and the Players Championship Finals.
Suljovic also enjoyed a profitable UK Open qualification campaign, finishing 14th on the final Order of Merit standings. ‘The Gentle’ will also enter this event in the last 64 at Minehead on Friday evening. He reached the last four of UK Open qualifier 6, but for the twelfth time in succession, he was beaten in a PDC ranking semi-final.
The darts-control man’s methodical and unconventional style makes him an extremely tough opponent, but his quality and ability should not be under-estimated. He has a wonderful knack of producing under pressure, and his clutch-doubling, particularly on the D14 segment, is extremely impressive.
The big question mark about Suljovic is whether he can compete with the ‘big four’ but he has the consistency and temperament to beat many of the world’s top 16. If Mensur avoids the biggest names early on, he could replicate or even better his quarter-final appearance from last year. At odds of 66/1, he cannot be dismissed.
Benito van de Pas
Benito van de Pas is the latest star to emerge from the conveyor belt of Dutch darting talent. The 23-year-old is one of the most exciting players in the game at present, and the UK Open could potentially be Benito’s big TV breakthrough.
van de Pas has already made tremendous strides on the floor, reaching a European Tour final and a Players Championship final, but his best performance in a televised major came in November’s Players Championship Finals, also in Minehead, where he reached the quarter-finals, having dismantled James Wade 10-3 in the last 16.
He finished 11th on the UK Open Order of Merit after reaching the semi-finals of UK Open qualifier 4, which saw him defeat his compatriot Michael van Gerwen 6-4 in a high quality quarter-final clash.Like Mensur Suljovic, van de Pas can be considered rather unorthodox. He has a very smooth action, but cover-shooting is a hugely significant part of his game.
Van de Pas’s temperament has been a vital feature in his upward trajectory over the past 12 months. He doesn’t appear to get overawed by the big occasion and he isn’t fearful of the big names. Occasionally his scoring power can desert him for periods in matches, but at 80/1, the young Dutchman is certainly one to watch this weekend.
Mark Webster’s remarkable renaissance was one of the darting stories of 2015. The 2008 Lakeside world champion had been suffering with dartitis and had subsequently fallen outside of the world’s top 32 twelve months ago, but he has recaptured his form magnificently and is throwing some tremendous darts.
His revival was sparked by his run to the semi-finals of the World Grand-Prix, where he was beaten by Michael van Gerwen in the last four. This saw him regain his top 32 spot, which he cemented with a fine run to the Grand-Slam quarter-finals last November, where he comfortably ousted world-champion Gary Anderson in the last 16.
Webster slipped down to 26th in the world despite reaching the last 16 of the World Championships, because he was defending prize money from reaching the last eight in 2014. However, he has kicked off 2016 in fine fashion, finishing joint fifth on the final UK Open Order of Merit.
The Welshman was extraordinarily consistent in the final four UK Open qualifiers, reaching the semi-finals, the last 16, the quarter-finals and the semi-finals respectively. His game is extremely solid; he is ruthlessly proficient on the doubles and his scoring is very consistent. His cover-shooting, particularly on the T19, is a major asset for Webby.
His performances in the World-Grand Prix and Grand Slam indicate that he has all the attributes to reach the latter stages of televised events. Mark is feeling very contented within both his personal and professional life at present and it will take a very good performance to defeat him. I think Webster is one to watch this weekend.
After enduring an alarming two-year slump which saw him plummet from 4th in the world to 18th, Simon Whitlock is beginning to show signs of a revival in 2016. It’s a new-look Whitlock this year, as the Australian has opted to wear glasses on the oche, having previously only worn them in practice.
This has certainly had a ‘spectacular’ effect on Whitlock’s game. Since opting to wear glasses in competition, ‘The Wizard’ has reached the quarter-finals in 4 of his last 7 ranking events and he’s set to enter the UK Open in the last 64 stage.
Whitlock is throwing with far more conviction at present, which illustrates his new-found belief. He has looked bereft of confidence and rhythm over the last couple of years, particularly on the doubles. Nevertheless, he has significantly improved this element of his game in 2016 thus far.
Whitlock is a two-time World Championship finalist and a former European Championship winner. He has the experience and kn0w-how to challenge for major honours and he is so determined to return to the world’s top 16. Whitlock is priced at 80/1 with Coral, and given the Australian’s recent form, he is a serious threat.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see ‘The Bronzed Adonis’ Steve Beaton enjoy a deep run in Minehead this weekend? The 1996 Lakeside world champion is still in the world’s top 25, which is testament to his consistency and hunger.
One of the catalysts behind Beaton’s longevity is his rolls-royce throw. Steve’s action is mesmeric and so reliable; there is very little that can go wrong with the mechanics of his throw, rather like Raymond van Barneveld.
Prior to November’s Grand Slam, Beaton had endured a miserable run in TV majors, but his run to the last 16 saw ‘The Adonis’ return to form. He averaged 99 in defeat to Michael van Gerwen, before suffering a second-round exit to Michael Smith in the World Championships. Although in both games, Beaton performed well and was unfortunate.
Beaton enjoyed a tremendous UK Open qualification campaign, reaching the last 16 twice in the opening five qualifiers, before losing to Michael van Gerwen in the sixth and final qualifier. As a result, the 51-year-old finished fifth on the overall Order of Merit, and he’ll enter the event in round-three.
Beaton is without doubt a confidence player, and he’s entering the tournament in fine form. Steve isn’t the type of character to fear any player and the open-draw format adds to the unpredictability factor. As a former World Champion, Steve knows how to win; could he taste UK Open glory, two decades on from winning his first world title?