QUARTET AIMING TO LIFT McCOY^S PREMIER LEAGUE DARTS TITLE AT THE O2
THE three-month battle for the McCoy^s Premier League Darts title will culminate at The O2 in London on Thursday night, as Phil Taylor, Simon Whitlock, Andy Hamilton and James Wade do battle in the event^s Play-Offs.
The quartet progressed to compete for the £150,000 first prize in Thursday^s semi-finals and final following their success across 14 weekly rounds held in arenas around the UK and Ireland.
Taylor was a comfortable league leader after losing only one of his 14 league games, with Whitlock finishing second, while both Hamilton and Wade won their places in the semi-finals on a dramatic final league night last week.
Whitlock^s win over Adrian Lewis denied the World Champion a top-four finish, while Hamilton defeated Kevin Painter to finish third and Wade edged out Raymond van Barneveld on leg difference after they drew in their decisive contest.
Thursday^s Play-Offs will now see Taylor face Wade in the semi-finals in a repeat of the Premier League finals in 2008 and 2010 - with the latter seeing history created when Taylor hit two nine-dart finishes in a 10-8 triumph.
Whitlock plays Hamilton in the other semi-final, with the two winners then returning to the stage in front of around 10,000 fans to battle for the prestigious trophy.
"I can^t wait," said Taylor, the 2/5 favourite to take the title with William Hill. "It^s going to be a massive night and I^m really up for it because this is the culmination of four months of work.
"The Premier League^s up there now for me in being as big as the World Championship and I really am going to try my best on Thursday.
"It^s going to be tough against James in the semi-finals but I^m hugely determined to get that trophy back. It means everything to me - I want to get Gary Anderson^s name off the trophy and get mine back on it!"
Wade won the 2009 Premier League title and is the second most successful player in the PDC^s history behind Taylor, having won seven major titles since 2007.
"I^ve got to win two games now but it^s not as simple as that because I^m playing Phil in the semis," said Wade, the world number three. "Hopefully I^ll win the first one and then we^ll see what happens.
"I think it^s quite clear that Phil does something special against me and prepares perhaps even a little bit differently. I take that as a sign that he wants to kick my backside every time.
"If I can beat him in the semi-finals then hopefully I^ll have a good game in the final - but I^ve got to try and beat Phil first. I^m being positive about it and not frightened by playing him."
The other semi-final sees Australian star Whitlock returning to the Play-Offs, having lost 8-6 in the last four to Wade two years ago only to miss out in 2011.
Having impressed in finishing second in the league table after 14 weeks, he said: "I set myself goals and I^ve achieved the first one, but the job^s not done yet - I want to make the final and win it.
"I was a bit unlucky when I lost in the semis two years ago; James pulled out one big finish which hurt me, and I still haven^t forgotten that. Hopefully I can make up for that now."
World Championship finalist Hamilton has enjoyed a brilliant second half to his debut Premier League season - having found himself bottom of the table after six games before losing just once in his final eight to defy the pundits in reaching the Play-Offs.
"Nobody expected me to get here, and whatever happens now is a bonus to me," he said. "I^ll keep playing darts and keep fighting like The Hammer does.
"I^ve earned the right to be in the top four and the semi-final will be a battle again. I^ve got nothing to lose and I^ve got a lot to gain. On my day I can beat anybody, I know I can.
"I^ve played some great darts and I^ll fight for a game as well - if someone wants a battle, give me the biggest battle ever. Don^t write me off!"
Hamilton enjoyed his first visit to The O2 on Wednesday, and admitted: "It^s an incredible venue and I can^t wait to get on stage now.
"It will be an amazing atmosphere on Thursday night and I think it will bring the best out of me."
The McCoy^s Premier League Darts semi-finals will be played over the best of 15 legs, with the final being the best of 19 legs.
William Hill, the official betting partner of the McCoy^s Premier League Darts, make Taylor their odds-on 2/5 favourite to claim his sixth Premier League title on Thursday.
Whitlock is the 9/2 second favourite, with Wade priced at 7/1 to claim his second Premier League Darts title and newcomer Hamilton the 10/1 outsider after qualifying for the Play-Offs in his debut season.
Taylor is 1/5 to win his semi-final against Wade, who is rated as 7/2 to win through to the decider.
Whitlock is the 4/9 favourite to win the other semi-final against Hamilton, who is rated as 7/4 despite the Stoke ace taking a win and a draw from the pair^s two league contests this season.
Following the semi-finals, the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final will be held, as 23-year-old Dutchman Michael van Gerwen plays Norfolk^s 19-year-old James Hubbard over the best of 11 legs, with the winner taking a £15,000 first prize.
The evening will also see a special performance of the charity single ^Got My Ticket For The Darts^, written by Chas Hodges and released this week to raise money for Haven House Children^s Hospice, priced at 99p and available from iTunes.
Some tickets, including a small number of floor table seats, remain on sale for Thursday^s McCoy^s Premier League Darts Play-Offs. To purchase, call 0844 856 0202 or visit www.theo2.co.uk.
McCoy^s Premier League Darts Play-Offs
The O2, London - May 17
Tickets: 0844 856 0202 or www.theo2.co.uk
Simon Whitlock v Andy Hamilton
Phil Taylor v James Wade
Best of 15 legs
PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final
Michael van Gerwen v James Hubbard
Best of 11 legs
McCoy^s Premier League Darts Final
Taylor/Wade v Whitlock/Hamilton
Best of 19 legs
For all games, the order of throw will be decided by a bull-off pre-match in the practice room. Should a game go to a deciding leg, there would not be any further bull-off, meaning that the player who throws first in the opening leg of the game throws first in the deciding leg.
William Hill Odds
2/5 Phil Taylor
9/2 Simon Whitlock
7/1 James Wade
10/1 Andy Hamilton
Simon Whitlock v Andy Hamilton
4/9 Simon Whitlock
7/4 Andy Hamilton
Phil Taylor v James Wade
1/5 Phil Taylor
7/2 James Wade
William Hill are the official betting partner of the McCoy^s Premier League Darts - for the latest odds, visit www.williamhill.com