ITV GRAND SLAM OF DARTS
Whilst the ITV Grand Slam of darts sees a unique round-robin format and is also the only time BDO/WDF, as well as PDC players compete in the same competition, the first two years of its existence have seen a familar result - namely a certain Philip Douglas Taylor carrying home the winner^s trophy. With Taylor in arguably the best form of his illustrious career, it^s difficult to see a different result in 2009, however who might his likely challengers be ?
^The Power^ kicks off as the seeded player in Group A against : Mark Webster, Vincent van der Voort and Anastasia Dobromyslova and he is a shoe-in to progress. A shoulder injury has prevented the talented Webster from showing his best form since his defection to the PDC ranks - one also gets the impression he is still coming to terms with the more raucous crowds that enjoy the PDC action. Van der Voort is a highly talented and explosive player but also an erratic one - at his best he can give most a run for their money - though his best only comes sporadically. Whilst Dobromyslova has been - with her winning smile and pleasant demeanour a great ambassador for both ladies darts and the evolution of the game in general, the standard of the top players in the PDC now is such that it will make it difficult for her to make her mark (although one would love to see her take a male scalp).
Group A result.
Winner : Taylor. R/up: Van Der Voort.
Group B sees BDO star Tony O^Shea as the seeded player. He has been the form horse on the BDO tour, but has yet to do the business at the big TV tournaments - if he can handle the big stage atmopsphere he could progress. Colin Osborne - with a Players Championship win in Irvine and the Championship League of darts title under his belt enters the fray in great form. Like many others he has yet to claim a big TV win - but results suggest he is getting there. Colin Lloyd is a darting enigma, at his best he is clearly a great player, but in the last 18 months for every great game there have been several poor ones. Which Colin Lloyd will arrive at Wolverhampton ? Possibly the man himself cannot even answer that. Brian Woods lost all four of his group games at his last GSOD appearance and whilst a ^Tops of Holland^ tournament win on the BDO circuit suggests he is playing within himself, it remains to be seen whether that form is sufficient to trouble the PDC big guns.
Group B result.
Winner : Osborne. R/up : O^Shea.
Mervyn King is the seeded Group C player and is now fully established as one of the very best PDC players, whilst the big TV tournament breakthrough win remains elusive, if he can maintain his A game form over longer formats it will surely arrive. Darryl Fitton performed well in his last GSOD appearance - topping his group, which suggests that the atmosphere is to his liking, although on the down side his recent form has been patchy at best. Steve Maish can take great pride in overcoming 195 players to win himself a wildcard entry to the tournament, although there has been little else in his recent form to suggest he could cause an upset here. Kirk Shepherd has struggled since his amazing run to the final of the 2007 PDC World Championship. although his recent performances in the Championship League of darts were improved, it remains difficult to see him topping his incredible 2007 achievement here.
Group C result.
Winner : King. R/up : Fitton.
Group D seed Raymond van Barneveld has looked ill at ease on the oche for at least 18 months, with the days when it was the flick of a coin as to whether it was he or Phil Taylor who was the World^s best dart player seeming a long time ago. However whilst it is a B game van Barneveld which is usually seen these days, it is a B game which is enough to beat most others A games. With three World Championship wins under his belt John Part clearly has the pedigree and whilst since his 2007 World Championship win he he has done little to suggest another major win is in the offing, it would be worth noting that this is when he is at his most dangerous. Kevin Painter is that rare breed of dart players - he is one who enjoys the big stage atmosphere as opposed to the more intimate confines of the floor tournaments. Although his recent form has not been great he is always capable of a decent run. Francis Hoenselaar is the latest ladies World Champion to pit her wits against her male counterparts and whilst she is a welcome addition to the tournament it is difficult to see that she has the capabilities to trouble her experienced male group opponents.
Group D result.
Winner : van Barneveld. R/up : Part.
Group E sees the much anticipated arrival on a PDC run stage of Ted Hankey as the seeded player. Hankey has been a frequent critic of the PDC and has a track record of letting off oche factors ranging from crowd noise to air conditioning get to him. If Ted - with his beautiful fluid throw can remain calm and focused he could have a great tournament, although the likelihood of a Ted implosion remains a distinct possiblity ! Watch this space ...... Like all Aussies Simon Whitlock is a dogged competitor and a talented player to boot. Being based ^Down Under^ does not help his quest to find suitably competitive action on a regular basis, but there is no doubt he can play the game. If darts games were won on the back of charisma, Wayne Mardle would have won more trophies than Phil Taylor, sadly they are not and ^Hawaii 501^ has been in poor form of late which has seen him slip down the PDC rankings. Scott Waites makes his debut in the GSOD on the back of his runner-up slot in the 2008 Winmau World Masters if he can play his best game could progress, although much will depend on the performance of the out of form Mardle and how his BDO counterpart Hankey handles the racous PDC crowd.
Group E result.
Winner : Whitlock. R/up : Waites.
Group F seed Gary Anderson is a potential star in making - although whilst the trademark heavy scoring which was a staple of his BDO career has been taken over to his new darting life in the PDC - he has also brought with him the frustrating inconsitency which was also factor in his play. However he should have more than enough to progress here. Steve Beaton enters the tournament in great form, with a Players Championship win and a European Championship runner-up slot under his belt he is playing his best darts in a decade - definitely a dark horse and one to watch. Co Stompe can be an enigmatic figure but at his best he is a dangerous player, the question with him - like so many is which player turns up. Kevin McDine had a brilliant run to the semi-final of the inaugural GSOD tournament and looked like one of the brightest young talents in the game at that time. He has not lived up to expecations and recent form suggests he is not at his best.
Group F result
Winner : Anderson. R/up : Beaton.
But for a certain P.Taylor, Group G seed Terry Jenkins would have been more bride than bridesmaid, though it should not detract from the fact that on his day he is one of the best out there. Adrian Lewis is arguably the most naturally talented player in the game, though as yet he has been unable to maintain his mercurial form over long distances. If the Lewis stamina and mental approach can be developed he could well be the natural sucessor to his mentor Taylor^s throne. Darin Young is the number one player on the North American circuit and has not looked out of place on the big TV stages in the UK - he will be no pushover here. Denis Ovens may lack the charisma and showmanship seen in many of his contemporaries but not too many people would fancy drawing this ^steady eddie^ of the oche - a very fine and consistent player on the floor but as yet not one who has made the breakthrough on the big stage.
Group G result.
Winner : Lewis. R/up : Jenkins.
Since winning the Premier League darts title Group G seed James Wade has not been at his best but there is no doubt that he is the number 2 player in the world and a force to be reckoned with. Andy Hamilton is a player who seemed destined for the upper echelons of the game but a patchy year has seen him slip to number 14 in the PDC rankings. However he is amongst a group of players who will be looking for a big tournament in the lead up to the World Championships, as only 18,000 pounds and loose change would see him in a Premier League spot in 2010. The likeable Gary Mawson arrives courtesy of a runner-up slot in the 2008 UK Open, although like his lookalike at Liverpool FC - Rafa Benitez - he seems a man out of form at present. Similarly at present the talented Robert Thornton appears to be struggling to recapture the form that won him the 2007 Winmau World Masters and which saw him make such a success of his PDC career in 2008.
Group H result.
Winner : Wade. R/up : Hamilton.
Tomorrow we assess the Final stages - stay tuned !