The 2017 Coral UK Open Finals kicks off at the Butlin’s Minehead Resort on Friday afternoon. World champion Michael van Gerwen will be going in search of his third successive UK Open title, but in the tournament dubbed ‘The FA Cup of Darts’- anything is possible. Josh’s Dartistry picks out his five potential outsiders for the crown.
Michael Smith has been touted by many as a future world champion, and given the prodigious talent he possesses you can understand why. Nevertheless, after suffering elimination in his maiden Premier League campaign twelve months ago, the St Helen’s star lost his confidence and endured a nightmare end to 2016.
However, ‘Bully-Boy’ performed well to reach the last 16 of the 2017 World Championships and has kicked off his Pro Tour season very strongly. He reached the final of UK Open Qualifier Three in Wigan last month, missing two match darts against Peter Wright to clinch the title.
Smith also reached a semi-final and quarter-final in two of the other qualifiers, whilst he performed consistently in the opening Players Championship double-header of the season; recording successive quarter-final appearances. He admits he’s finally got his belief back and that makes him a very dangerous proposition.
The former World-Youth champion will enter the tournament at the third-round stage after finishing fifth on the final UK Open Order of Merit. Interestingly he’s yet to go beyond the last 32 at the UK Open, but he has the ability and belief, which suggests his tournament odds of 80/1 are a little derisory.
Kyle Anderson has also enjoyed a strong start to the season after making his long-awaited return to the PDC circuit. ‘The Original’ was unable to compete in the Players Championship Finals and the World Championship towards the end of last year due to ongoing visa issues, but the Aussie ace has returned in fine fettle.
Kyle reached the quarter-finals in two of the six UK Open qualifiers to finish 21st on the final Order of Merit. He also reached the last eight in the opening Players Championship event of 2017 in Barnsley last weekend, and he’s claimed the scalps of Premier League trio Peter Wright, Raymond van Barneveld and Jelle Klaasen already this year.
Anderson is one of the most prolific scorers in the game and his recent victories over a number of established stars demonstrates that he’s capable of mounting a genuine challenge at Minehead over the weekend; it’s just a case of everything coming together for him at the right moments.
The Aussie’s best run in a ranking TV major to date,came at the UK Open twelve months ago, where he dropped just six legs in defeating Andy Hamilton, James Wilson and Benito van de Pas, before succumbing to his stablemate Jelle Klaasen in the quarter-finals. At tournament odds of 150/1, he’s certainly a tempting price to replicate that form this year.
Darren Webster is one of the most experienced players on the circuit, but he’s arguably playing the best darts of his career at present; particularly on the big stage. The man nicknamed ‘The Demolition Man’ has always been a dangerous player, particularly in floor events, but over recent months he’s transferred his form to the televised arena.
The Norwich ace whitewashed Phil Taylor in the Grand Slam of Darts group-stages back in November and that’s been the catalyst behind his recent form.The 48-year-old also harbours happy recent memories of Minehead, where he reached the semi-finals of November’s Players Championship Finals.
Webster led Michael van Gerwen 6-0, only for ‘The Green Machine’ to launch a valiant fightback and prevail 11-9. However, his run to the last four marked his best ever performance in a PDC televised major. He also whitewashed Simon Whitlock in round-two of the World Championship, only to succumb once again to the imperious MvG in the L16.
He’s made a solid start to the Pro Tour season; finishing in the top 32 of the UK Open Order of Merit and landing a nine-darter in the fifth qualification event. Webster’s a real tenacious character and as evidenced by his recent results; he relishes the underdog tag. In the tournament dubbed ‘The FA Cup of Darts’, he could be in his element.
Rob Cross made his name on the PDC circuit in Minehead twelve months ago, and he’s gone from strength-to-strength ever since. He sealed his spot in Minehead last year as one of the 32 Riley’s amateur qualifiers and defeated Canada’s Ken MacNeil, former UK Open finalist Wes Newton and Dutchman Jeffrey De Graaf to reach the last 32.
Cross was eventually beaten 9-5 by world number one Michael van Gerwen, who took out a 170 checkout and fired in a nine-dart finish. Cross also competed on the PDC Challenge Tour in 2016 and performed with aplomb. He won three of the sixteen events and reached a further two finals, which saw him top the overall Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
This saw him awarded a two-year PDC Tour Card and he’s been in sparkling form in the early stages of the season. The Hastings ace will enter the competition in Friday’s third-round stage after finishing 15th on the overall Order of Merit,after claiming a multitude of scalps across the six qualification events.
His best run came in UK Open qualifier five, where he reached the semi-finals. However, during his qualification campaign he registered wins against Simon Whitlock, Adrian Lewis, James Wilson, Steve Beaton, James Wade, Dave Chisnall, Robert Thornton and Jelle Klaasen. He’s one to watch in 2017 and is far more capable than his odds of 250/1 suggest.
Paul Hogan will be making his fourth UK Open appearance after progressing through the Riley’s amateur qualifier in South Benfleet. ‘Crocodile Dundee’ primarily plys his trade on the BDO circuit, but this will be his third successive appearance at Minehead and he will face former World-Youth champion Keegan Brown in a tantalising first-round tie.
Hogan has enjoyed tremendous longevity in the game, having reached the BDO World Championship quarter-finals back in 1995. More recently, he reached the last 16 at Lakeside in January, where he led eventual champion Glen Durrant 3-0. The Hampshire ace squandered match darts for a straight-sets triumph, and the rest is history.
The 53-year-old has won several titles in the BDO system, but his most notable triumph came in 2005, when he defeated Gary Anderson to win the British Classic. However, more recently he won the 2013 BDO Gold Cup; beating former BDO number one James Wilson in the final.
The Hampshire star reached the last 32 in Minehead back in 2015, defeating the likes of Darren Johnson and Benito van de Pas before losing out to Michael van Gerwen in a high-quality tussle. He’s one of many BDO stars to be competing this weekend, along with the likes of Dean Reynolds, Brian Dawson and Dave Parletti, but he won’t be overawed.
Let me know your thoughts on the potential outsiders for this weekend’s event by commenting below. Thanks for reading!