5 Darting Bargains – In An Age of Spiralling Costs.

Darts World has noticed that the costs, especially player and premium, of darts have increased substantially over the past few years.  Increased and improved cosmetics, together with some technical innovations, can be blamed for some of this. But, the increased popularity and worldwide expansion of darts seem to be resulting in a golf or tennis like spiralling of some equipment costs. 

Not quite within our bargain criteria, but the Pro-Line is an excellent dart for a mid-range price.

Less than five years ago very few sets of darts would cost more than £50 and the vast majority were between £20 & £35. These often included accessories such as a case and or spare flight & stem setups. Today, a brief look at any of the major sellers reveals thirty or forty different models with an RRP of over £60 with a handful of models on or around the £100 mark. 

Does all this mean that darts is becoming a rich pursuit for those with more disposable cash? Can the average young person still get a decent start and does all this extra cash actually make much difference? 

Darts World asked A.I.M: to look into the best value darts available and to put them through their paces. We set them a maximum of £25 per set and asked them to assess quality, performance, value, and accessibility.  Here is the first summary of what they found; 

1) Pro-Style (21-26g) – Darts Clearance £12.99-14.99. http://www.ebaystores.co.uk/dartsclearance?_fsub=7330512015& 

These are a lovely dart for the £15 cost.  The 22g model is 48mm x 7.2mm (widest) and has a slight taper from the front to rear. There is a small blank near the stem and the grip is what could be described as an original Bob Anderson style grip but slightly more aggressive. They have a slight front weight but still, feel well balanced. Almost indistinguishable from the McKicks Alan Glazier darts. 

The darts come with nothing but a point protector in order to keep the costs, and postage fees, at an absolute minimum. They were popular with all our testers and all standards. Even our elite player was very impressed. The ‘Pro-Style’ compared well with other models even those of higher cost. The tungsten content will be at least 80% and may be higher.  

Pro-Style – Excellent value at a bargain cost.

2) Winmau Diamond 23g – Red Dragon Clearance £24.90 (RRP £55)  – http://www.reddragondarts.com/winmau-diamond-3-23-gram-12105.html

These are a serious bargain. Originally £55+ they represent the combination of high-quality tungsten and a diamond fusion grip. Winmau seems to have abandoned this grip style and thus you can now pick up some serious bargains. 

Winmau Diamond Grip – Currently less than half price.

These have a great deal in common with John Lowe or Andy Fordham shape darts. The extra grip near the nose can be handy. They are 90% tungsten and measure 40.6mm x 7.7mm. The diamond grip was very popular and will be missed by some serious players. However, after a while, it can rub the other darts into looking shabby and wears itself down. 

In short, these are a premium dart for a one-off price. I doubt these will last long. Well worth a try or even to get yourself an extra set if you use them already. 

3) Designa Dark Thunder – £22.95http://www.dartscorner.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=42991 

A lovely dart, in a classic style, for under £25.

These are a very good value, 90% tungsten dart. They have a lot in common with Unicorn (Taylor) Phase 1. The black barrels with natural highlights are a popular look and have a touch of the Noir range about them. A very grippy dart that is not chunky in the hard or over-complex in design. Various weights are available with 22g and 24g being the most popular. With Darts Corner moving their priorities to Mission darts these may not be around forever as the Designa badge may fade away. 

Monster – The Cobra – £24 (RRP £50+)  – http://www.dartscorner.co.uk/product_info.php?cPath=1190_1692&products_id=31539

These are available in the clearance section of dartscorner.com and may not be for very long at this price. This model became Jelle’s signature shape and style for quite a few years and during his most successful PDC spell.  

The Cobra – A £50+ premium dart for a clearance price.

90 % Tungsten, superbly designed and engineered to be a superb combination of aerodynamics and style. 42mm long x 7mm (at the widest) they are highly individual and you might wish to try before you buy! Although badged as 22g this is misleading the barrel weight is only 20.4g. 

Two of our testers loved these and one has kept them! However, our third player could not get used to them at all. It seems that ‘The Cobra’ is a bit Marmite! 

Alan Tabern – V180 – £20http://www.a180.co.uk/product.php/10304/v180-alan-tabern-90-tungsten-darts-21g

A classic player dart for only £20. Alan Tabern’s simple barrel.

You don’t get many classic player darts for under £20. However, V180 makes a small range, all of which are pitched at a great price. Perhaps the best of these is the Tabern dart. These could be made by Target, Alan’s old sponsor, they are a classic style ring grip dart. Only Alan’s 21g edition is available. They are a little over 47mm x 6mm wide they feel very well balanced and are 90% tungsten. 

Our players thought that these were a lovely dart. The only downside was that they are not as heavily gripped as some current models. Our more traditional testers were fond of these darts, whereas our younger player, seem to find them over delicate and harder to control. 

It can be seen from the above, that despite the recent increases in the cost of premium products, high-quality darts can be sourced. A little creativity and patience can result in darts of the same   

Phil Taylor Trophy Introduced For BetVictor World Matchplay

Hunting the Big Five – A Decade of Darting Excellence.

In any professional sport, a small group of events emerge as the ‘Majors’ or Grand Slam titles. Often in different environments, conditions or host nations.

The true greats of any sport, or era, collect multiples of these titles as if they were any other. Professional darts is no different.

Phil Taylor Trophy Introduced For BetVictor World Matchplay
The World Matchplay Seems to be the Toughest Big5 event to win.
Phil Taylor. Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

The last decade has been remarkable for the game of darts. From a playing perspective, we have seen dominance and mastery of Phil Taylor, followed by the MVG era, with the emergence of many other talents, and characters, along the way. The game itself has gone from strength to strength with ever-increasing popularity, financial clout and now a truly global reach. The PDC, together with broadcasting companies have built upon a solid base of TV majors. By adding various non-ranking series and one-off events, held in different nations, in every timezone, they have ensured massive exposure. Despite the proliferation of events, most darts players (and fans) accept that there are five titles that currently carry that extra something that qualifies them as Majors.

The Big5 of the darts has The World Championships as its crown jewel. Held at the Alexandra Palace running from December of one year into the early days of the next. It uses a sets format and increases in match length over the rounds. However, the large and diverse field means early matches can be one-sided and draw sections can vary enormously in difficulty. Thus in many ways, the World Championships is a test of a players ability to adapt to the circumstances, retain consistency and improve through the two weeks.

The UK Open is second in the calendar, now held in February/March every year. It is open to a wider range of players and, like the FA Cup, each round is drawn after the previous one is completed. ‘The Open’ is therefore prone to drama and shocks and often produces great runs from lesser ranked and even amateur players. Rob Cross’s journey started with his qualification for this event via an amateur event in Norwich.

The World Matchplay, held in July at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, is, in many ways, the opposite of the UK Open. The Top 16 are joined by the top 16 on that year’s form. The Matchplay is pro darts in its purest form. No sets, no short format rounds and even a demand that a player wins by two clear legs. Only four players have won the Matchplay since 2008, all are World Champions and all significant players in darting history.

The fourth Big5 event of the year is held in Dublin, Ireland and has the unique feature of each leg starting on a double. The World Grand Prix is a fan favourite, perhaps due to its differences. The early stages have quite a short format and often produce shocks or near misses. Oddly, despite many shock results over the years, only Daryl Gurney in 2017 could be classed as a genuine surprise winner.

Grand Slam of Darts- incredibly the last time Raymond van Barneveld tasted victory in a PDC major event.

The Grand Slam of Darts provides the fifth of the biggest titles available to PDC players (and in this case others) each year. Again, a variation from the standard format is used. This time a group stage is included. Short format games, and even a nine-dart shoot-out, are used to whittle down the field from 48 to 16. After the group stage longer formats are introduced increasing in length until the final. The GSoD, therefore, has a non-knockout phase and two different formats in the same event. As a final twist is that a number of the players are from different systems or codes than the PDC. This introduces a whole host of different rivalries and variables. The GSoD’s traditional home, Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall, produces a loud and raucous atmosphere that adds an edge like no other venue.

These five events have been ever-present during darts latest glory age. Despite a few tweaks over the years (e.g. GSoD is now ranked) they remained essentially the same throughout and have developed their own unique histories and characters. Each is open to qualification by ranking as well as via other routes. Each carries enough prize money to make significant changes to the orders of merit. Each is desired by most, if not all, players for their career CV and each has its own chapter in the darting history books. Many new or up and coming players are happy to first qualify for all these events let alone win them!

Big5 Trophy Hunters

From the start of 2008 to the close of 2018 there have been fifty-five Big5 events. It is safe to say that two main bags of trophies have been collected. Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor collected over 40% of the total with 23 titles. Second, in terms of total titles is MVG with 13 event wins. Gary Anderson has pocketed 4, with Adrian Lewis and James Wade claiming 3 apiece and the Robs, Cross and Thornton, have 2 each. The remaining 5 have fallen to John Part, Gerwyn Price, Daryl Gurney, Scott Waites and Raymond Van Barneveld. Shockingly RVB gained only the 2012 GSoD in the eleven years covered.

Wade has collected three out of the Big5. The World Championship and the Grand Slam would complete the set.
BETFRED WORLD MATCHPLAY 2019 WINTER GARDENS, BLACKPOOL PIC; LAWRENCE LUSTIG

Career Big5 Slams.

To claim all of the Big5 is a serious achievement. Five different formats against the best of your era on any given day, week and year is remarkable. A clue lies in those who have not managed it. No Grand Slam for Dennis Priestley or Raymond Barneveld despite RVB’s peak years coming whilst all five were available to him. Gary Anderson is still missing both the WGP and Grand Slam titles whilst Adrian Lewis has only two of the five in his title bank. James Wade is the closest non-World Champion, having won three and reached the final of another.

MVG became a career winner of the Big 5 in during a phenomenal spell in 2015. He added three of the five in a single summer. The UK Open, World Matchplay and Grand Slam were added to his 2012 World Grand Prix and 2014 World Championship. Micheal has also claimed the Big5 ‘Season Slam’ Starting with the 2016 UK Open and concluding with the 2017 World Championships he claimed all five titles in succession within one rankings season. Strangely he has not yet claimed the ‘calendar year’ Big5.

The other of the Big5 bagmen has an even more impressive record when it comes to ‘Slams. Phil Taylor claimed all five of the Big5 events completed in 2009. In addition, he also won the last three completed in 2008 and the first three in 2010. Thus ‘The Power’ completed the ‘Season’ Slam and the ‘Calendar Year’ Slam between 2009 and 2010. He also produced a run of eleven consecutive Big5 wins. No one else has claimed both slams and no other player has won more than five in a row. Just to demonstrate that it was not a fluke, Taylor completed the ‘Calendar Slam’ again in 2013.

More in the Mix?

It is often claimed that the game has moved from one period of darting domination, under Taylor, to another, under MVG. Looking at the Big5 adds a bit of depth to that thought. In the four years between 2008 and 2011, inclusive, Taylor did indeed dominate, winning fourteen from twenty available titles. Yet, four different players won Big5 events and there were three different World Champions.

The four seasons between 2012 and 2015 divided the Big5 titles between six players, an increase of 33% and there were four different World Champions. Four players claimed more than one title and Taylor and MVG bagged the majority with eight and six respectively.

A little over three and half seasons have been completed between 2016 and 2019. But yet again there are four different World Champions. Eight players have already claimed a Big5 title (two more to play) with Anderson claiming three, despite a serious injury, and MVG on eight so far.

Nathan Aspinall became the latest to claim a Big5 title at the 2019 UK Open.
Pic: PDC

Big5 Glory Proving Tougher?

With the expansion of the global game, it may well be that players can no longer count on winning so many of the biggest TV titles. Already we see that the number of competitions played, and the clashing of tournaments, is leading to players missing certain events. This opens up the field to others. In turn, of course, this increases the other players’ confidence and experience, not to mention their bank balances. The introduction of the European Tour had a huge effect which is being magnified by the addition of other stage/screened events, be they regional, invitational or promotional.

We have many more hitting their very best at the same time and this may increase. Of the eight Big5 winners, from the last 4 seasons, seven are still playing and at least five could be considered to be in their prime. Hunting the Big5 looks likely to get tougher and tougher. But professional darts appear to be in a very strong place going forward. The variety of player styles, ages and personalities claiming Big5 titles is growing and will spawn.

MVG sits 2nd in the Big5 list with 13+ titles. But its getting tougher to claim them. ‘The Power’s 52+ Big5 wins may prove unassailable.
Pic: PDC

Perhaps the question that will run for the longest is;

“Will MVG match or surpass Phil Taylor’s total of 52 Big5 trophies?”

Micheal is currently on 13 Big5 titles but is more than twenty years younger than when Phil claimed his final title……………

PDC UK Open

Dealing with dartitis as a pub player

Two years ago, I wrote an article about how dartitis can be turned into a short-term problem. I had come through the initial stages of not being able to release a dart and was comfortable with realigning my throw in order to take the next step. The good news is that since my previous article, I have not encountered any problem with letting the dart go out of my hand. That’s half the battle won, right? However, I am producing more variations than an Indian spin bowler with the dart either coming out of the front of my hand or the left-hand side, or my elbow dropping so low that it’s halfway towards the oche.

Despite such issues, I’ve continued to compete in pub leagues, Super League and tournaments, although it’s fair to say that any positive performance comes as a surprise. Anyone who has had to cope with dartitis will acknowledge that it’s nigh-on impossible to not expect your throwing action to break down at any moment, but when the good moments come, they are heightened with sheer relief. First and foremost, you are proving a point to yourself and showing that you are not completely incapable, but there’s also a desire to remind team members or opponents that you can still play, proving that your own persistence is not a waste of everyone’s time.

Over Christmas and into the New Year, I’ve played a lot of competitive darts and for the most part, I’ve been pleased with how I have thrown. In the Super League knockout tournament, I averaged nearly 60 and almost hit a 21-dart leg which included a seven and a 26. Try it – it takes some doing! I also kicked off the 301 league with a 12-dart leg – my third best competitive leg pre and post-dartitis. Nothing completely spectacular but for a dartitis sufferer, it rarely gets better. That’s just the reality of what you’re dealing with, but that’s ok. It’s the reward for your own perseverance.

PDC UK Open

Then came the acid test – back to Super League darts. Playing Super League is never going to be the be all and end all to me but for anyone with dartitis, there is a certain fear factor. You play the game not expecting to win, but praying to avoid embarrassment. Call that a negative attitude if you will but it’s an involuntary mentality which is part of the package. I got paired against a player who I knew I should be beating but already, the natural reaction is ‘What if I don’t?’

I won the match 3-2 but it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Neither does the 13.33 per dart average that I recorded. It’s an abysmal average for that platform of darts but I took every single positive and ignored the negatives. I lost the opening leg and hit a 76 checkout under pressure for a 26-dart leg in the second. I won two legs where my opponent had hit a 140 and finished 40 at the first time of asking in the decider. There may have been a 60-dart leg in there – which I lost after going from 35 to leaving nine in three darts, which is quite the skill – but who cares? I won my first ever match at Super League and it broke a mental barrier at the same time.

Ahead of the next game, my shoulder and release were as relaxed as they had been in some time. The fear factor remained, but there was optimism. However, that next game didn’t come, and it didn’t the following week either. The win had been ignored and only the average had been remembered. What was my own significant achievement was effectively deemed worthless by others. That should not be misconstrued to be a personal criticism, but it further highlighted the minefield which comes with dartitis, especially for a pub-standard player who still wants to play and contribute.

From my own personal standpoint, I’m forced into adopting a one-step-forward, two-steps-back mentality. I’m past the stage – the hardest stage – of being demoralised before I even try to throw a dart. I know my best game is in there somewhere and I know that I am capable of producing it. It’s taken patience to get to that stage, and I’m proud of myself for getting to that stage. However, proving things to yourself is only part of the challenge and there will always be concerns – demons to use a more extreme term – about how others perceive you and what they expect of you, especially in a team situation. The days of me being relied upon or expected to win a leg or a match by others feels long gone and it’s a new mindset to have to cope with.

That could be described as an unnecessary over-analysis of a situation that may or may not exist but again, it’s an involuntary reaction which comes with the territory. There’s no longer the possibility of being able to throw at a board – even in the least competitive of environments – and not being aware of how your throw is going, how it’s feeling, doubting whether everything is in sync and who is judging you, if anyone is judging you at all. There’s an over-eagerness to want to perform to the best of your ability and that has to be reduced down to a manageable level.

bwin Grand Slam of Darts - Monday Round-Up
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

That’s a transition that Berry van Peer has probably had to make in recent months. Obviously his experience of dartitis was broadcast to millions on a television screen and it should never be underestimated what he achieved in defeating Cameron Menzies in a deciding leg at the Grand Slam of Darts. Berry didn’t get his PDC Tour Card for 2018 but I have absolutely no doubt that it’s a blessing in disguise. It gives him 12 months out of the spotlight and a chance to work on overcoming dartitis in the most effective way he can find without having to put his throw under more scrutiny on the Pro Tour. He can now improve at his own pace. It will work wonders.

What Berry did at the Grand Slam was an inspiration to me, as it would have been to anyone who has struggled with their throw. It put dartitis in the public eye and it helped take away some of the perception that dartitis is down to nerves. It’s not. If anything, it’s building your expectations too high and trying to rush your own progression. Subconsciously, Berry probably got ahead of himself after reaching the PDC World Youth final in 2016 and when the results didn’t come in 2017, he hit a brick wall. I did the same when averaging 67 in the last 32 of the old UK Open pub qualifiers. I was five matches away from the Reebok Stadium, expecting to progress over the next 12 months and it all went downhill from there.

That said, I still know that if everything clicks for me in one given match or competition, I’m still capable of beating most people. I understand that probably won’t happen over a prolonged period of time but I continue to enjoy playing darts with dartitis because I know that one moment is going to come. When I play the UK Open qualifiers in the coming weeks, will I be competitive? Probably not, but I’m prepared to put myself through the process of overcoming mental obstacles in order to get back to where I want to be.

The early stages of dartitis are probably best spent behind closed doors with no pressure and no expectations. There needs to be a certain acceptance that you’re effectively starting from scratch and those previous high averages are not realistic. However, just enjoy the process and do things at your own pace. That first competitive game back probably won’t go to plan but it’s a continuation of the process. Think where Berry van Peer would be if he had accepted the PDC’s offer of pulling out of the Grand Slam before the Menzies match? Instead of fading into the background, he backed himself and produced one of the most memorable darting moments of 2017. If a 21-year-old can do that in front of a thousand people at the Wolverhampton Civic and millions around the world, there’s every chance that it’s possible to get back on track in front of a few people in a pub.

Republic of Ireland Junior Darts Academy.

Interview with Keith O’Neill – founder of Republic of Ireland’s first ever darts academy

Republic of Ireland Junior Darts Academy.
Dave McNally interviews Republic of Ireland Junior Darts Academy founder Keith O’Neill.

With darts thriving on an unprecedented scene here in the British Isles and across Europe, I managed to catch up with Keith O’Neill, who has set up the first ever Republic of Ireland darts academy to look after the future of darts on the Emerald Isle.

Despite not having the luxury of darts being recognised as a sport in Eire, Keith has battled on to give the youngsters every opportunity to hone their skills and prepare them for professional darts or to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport for the pure enjoyment.

Keith explained: “We are the only darts academy on the island of Ireland who are affiliated to the Junior Darts Corporation (JDC), sponsored by Unicorn Darts, adopting the DRA playing rules and playing in an alcohol free environment.”

It’s certainly something to shout about and a huge achievement for an association that is still finding its feet. Keith went on: “Yes, I realise it is in its infancy, but the response has been very positive so far with 13 local juniors taking part on a weekly basis. If we could get more information about the academy out there I am sure we could build on that.”

The lack of acknowledgement by the government has made it particularly hard to get funding for Keith and the darts academy, but this has made him more determined than ever. “Here in Ireland; darts is not recognised as a sport so therefore there are no grants available for funding from either the government or the Sports Council, and basically just not being taken seriously,” Keith added.

Despite the archaic view of the powers that be, the academy has been largely well received by both the students of the game and their parents, as Keith points out: “Indeed, it has had very positive responses from parents of the students that are already involved, they’re very happy to have their children engaging in group sports that help them interact with other kids, plus there is the educational aspect of helping them with their maths in a clever way that allows the kids to learn without them really knowing it, in a way that is fun.”

Putting in relentless hours on the academy has been like a full time job for Keith, but he was quick to point out that there has been help along the way. “Steve ‘Bomber’ Brown is the founder/chairman of the Junior Darts Corporation (JDC), and has designed the grading system we use at the academy. He was also available to give advice and help along the way as were many other people in the world of darts who have set up academies in the UK, pointing out any problems or simply giving their time to the project.”

So now that it is set up, what’s it all about then Keith? “We are based in Tullow, County Carlow. We are open every Thursday from 7:30pm – 9:00pm and it is currently the only junior darts academy in the whole of the Republic of Ireland. We run an eight weekly tournament, five times a year to coincide with our grading system. We also run a memorial youths tournament and an all-Ireland world junior darts qualifier; we also enter teams into a major all-Ireland team event once a year.”

So it looks like the foundations for growth are already in place, to sustain the academy and grow? “My long term goal for opening this academy to begin with was and still is; to produce a world darts champion from the island of Ireland. The talent we have in Ireland is amazing but they just need people to open doors for them.”

So is Keith thinking of producing darts players like Premier League football teams who churn out top quality youngsters on a regular basis? Do you hope to have a conveyor belt of up and coming academy talent? “That is exactly what I am trying to do; we have a darts school (for new members) and then the darts academy. New members are welcome and all progress depends on grades that you complete throughout the year. There is no limit to how far these youngsters can go and hopefully they will find their way onto the professional circuit.”

Apart from learning about darts, do you also offer advice on technique and pitfalls etc? “The darts school starts off with the basics such as the set up then looks at the players grip and stance. After this we will look at aiming, where to aim, target area etc. Then it’s onto the movement of the arm; we look at pull back and the throwers follow through.”

Keith adds: “We also look at aspects of the game that come natural to top players, but need to be learned at an early age and that is simply the mathematics of the game. The academy then focuses on getting your grades higher as well as darts etiquette, learning checkouts and how to actually run tournaments yourself.” This seems like a great idea to spread the game further if students can eventually go on to run tournaments themselves, getting more people playing the sport and developing it further.

Well aware of the fact that the academy is still young, does Keith think there are any youngsters out there who could go a long way? “This year we have Thomas O’Neill and Kian Cullen that have qualified through our grading system to represent Ireland at the World Junior Darts Championship being held in Bristol UK in December 2017, which we are very proud of. They are being joined by four qualifiers that have qualified through the qualification tournament we held at the academy.”

Finally Keith, is it a selection process or can anyone get involved? “Anyone can get involved, whatever their level or ability but qualification for our teams is from your ability only.”

Thanks to Keith O’Neill @ Republic of Ireland Junior Darts Academy for taking the time to speak to Darts World Magazine.

LIGHTS, CAMERA - BUT NO ACTION

Lights, Camera – But no action

LIGHTS, CAMERA - BUT NO ACTION
Photo; DG Media/PDC Europe

Five players battle to stop the rot and get back on TV

Every year in darts new stars emerge and old stars pack away their competitive tungsten for good, but 2017 is unique for the possibility of witnessing so many of the veteran PDC darts players – with whom darts fans grew up and have enduring allegiances – fail to qualify for TV events. By no means are the careers of players like Andy Hamilton and Vincent van der Voort ending, but they may be entering into a phase of their competitive life that involves fewer triumphant entrances onto televised stages and more grinding in the typical PDC floor venues of Wigan and Barnsley. The following five players, absent remarkable returns to form, are very much in danger of disappearing from the televised stage. The darts world will be saddened if they do; but there are dozens of young players currently making their mark on tour that would be all too pleased to bring the veterans’ years-long runs in major tournaments to an end.

WES NEWTON

Wes Newton played one of his most recent televised matches in December 2015, when he described a 1st round victory over Cristo Reyes at the 2016 World Championship as his “worst ever performance”, in which he won the first set of the match with a 67 average. His open and honest approach to his lapse of form has won him countless new fans, but since then he has not reached the quarterfinal of any tournament he has entered, causing him to fall from the 26th ranked player in the world to number 64 today, placing him on the brink of losing his tour card for the 2018 season. Recovery from a shoulder injury has proven difficult for the Warrior. Newton has accumulated only £2,250 in the first 16 ranking events held in 2017 and he intimated on Twitter last month that Unicorn had discontinued his sponsorship. Newton’s tour card guarantees him entry to the remaining 10 Players Championships and 7 European Tour UK qualifiers, so it is possible that with deep runs in a few tournaments Newton could qualify for the Players Championship Finals or stabilize his Order of Merit rank and mount a comeback from there. If Newton is forced to win back his tour card, he would certainly be a favorite to do so at the 2018 Q School.

ANDY HAMILTON

The Hammer described failing to qualify for the 2017 World Championship – which ended a 12-year run of appearances at that event – as “a new low point” in his career. Currently ranked 54th in the PDC, Andy Hamilton is likely to retain his tour card as he is defending very little in the way of earnings from the second half of 2015. But that is unlikely to satisfy the tenacious Stoke native, a World Championship finalist as little as five years ago, Hamilton’s form hinted at a comeback in the second weekend of last April, in which he beat three top-64 players (Wes Newton, Jamie Lewis, Ronny Huybrechts) and qualified himself for the German Open. A last-16 finish at a Players Championship has put him within a few hundred pounds of the pace to qualify for the Players Championship Finals, but other televised tournaments have fallen out of reach for him this year. Hamilton’s unique throwing action looks increasingly outmoded in a PDC stocked with technically proficient young players, but it has worked marvelously for the three-time ranking title winner in the past and he has given no indication of giving up the fight.

VINCENT VAN DER VOORT

A weary Vincent van der Voort confessed to Dan Dawson after losing to Max Hopp in the 2017 World Championship that persistent pain from a back injury was threatening to bring his darts career to a close, much to the dismay of darts fans for whom his quick throwing style and wildly popular walk-on music have been major attractions to the game. Whether back pain continues to try Vincent’s endurance in May is an open question, as Vincent has not elaborated on his hint at an impending retirement. Within three months of that interview, however, the Dutch Destroyer smashed his way through to the fifth round of the UK Open, taking out a 106 finish in a deciding leg to dump out fellow Dutchman Jelle Klaasen. van der Voort, however, is defending substantially more money earned in 2015 than he is earning this year, and has fallen to 27th in the Order of Merit. If Fast Vinny fancies another go on the Ally Pally stage, he will have to fight hard for it, as he has not advanced beyond the second round of a Players Championship event this year and is well behind schedule on earnings to qualify for the World Matchplay or the World Grand Prix.

JAMIE CAVEN

The world number 32, Jamie Caven, has clung on to his top-32 position gamely for months thanks to appearances in Blackpool and Dublin, but he will find further defense of his ranking difficult in light of the recent successes of Steve West, John Henderson and Christian Kist on and off the European Tour. Caven is not matching his successes on the 2015 European Tour with corresponding exploits on the 2017 circuit, and disappointed himself with a first round loss to Kevin Painter at Ally Pally in December. Without an appearance on the Euro Tour thus far, Caven nonetheless put forth an encouraging finish at the third Players Championship, in which he whitewashed James Wilson and secured a £1500 prize. Of any player in danger of falling under the radar of televised darts, Caven is probably most secure in his current position, as his mediocre 2015 campaign leaves him reasonable targets to meet as he defends earnings from two years ago. A 6-5 loss to Matt Clark in a deciding qualifier match for Sindelfingen suggests that Caven is close to breaking through for a good result; but the dropped last-leg decider nevertheless netted him not a single penny.

BRENDAN DOLAN

A recent glance at the list of Dolan’s 2017 ranking cashes revealed an astonishing fact – that Brendan Dolan, a mainstay of televised darts and a legendary History Maker for his throwing of the first-ever double-start perfect leg, could miss the majority of major tournaments this year. Dolan was seeded throughout his 2015 European Tour campaign, which guaranteed him a four-figure cash for every appearance he made, but this year the Ulsterman has not appeared at any European Tour event, having lost to Darren Webster and Steve Beaton in matches that would have qualified him for an outing in Germany. A mere £3,500 of ranking money earned in the Players Championships puts him nearly out of the race for Blackpool and Dublin – a great shock for a player who had acquitted himself so well at Ally Pally just months ago. Dolan is ranked 26th in the PDC – comfortably within the top 32 for the time being – but he must turn his game around quickly if he wants to stay in that position.