The eyes of the darts betting world turn to Milton Keynes this weekend for the start of this year's highly anticipated PDC Masters. The tournament, which started with it's inaugural event in 2013, features the world’s top 16 professional dart players in a straight knockout competition, much like the format used for other popular betting events including the snooker Masters.
The Masters, sponsored by Unibet, follows hot on the heels of the World Darts Championship last month and also acts as a warm-up for Premier League Darts which runs from February to May. It’s a three-day event with the first-round matches taking place on Friday and Saturday, and the quarter-finals taking place on Sunday.
The semi-finals and final are then in the evening Sunday. Reigning champion Michael van Gerwen is, as usual, the man to beat, but this is the best against the best, so anything can happen. Our PDC Masters betting preview looks at the main contenders and the markets where punters should be looking.
World number 1, 3-time Masters winner and recently crowned PDC Player of the Year – there’s no doubting who’s top dog in darts right now. Michael van Gerwen had another dominant year in 2017, winning a 4th successive European Championship, the Premier League, the Grand Slam of Darts and a second World Cup.
The Dutchman has also dominated this tournament during its relatively short life, winning it in each of the last three years. The only slight blot on his record last year was his performance at the World Championship, where he lost in the semi-finals to eventual winner Rob Cross, an unexpected outcome for MVG.
Despite that, ‘Mighty Mike’ is the clear favourite for the 2018 Masters, with most top sports betting sites putting him at 8/11. He starts off his campaign against Kim Huybrechts, who’s actually ranked number 17 but qualifies by virtue of Phil Taylor’s retirement. Van Gerwen looks to have a fairly straightforward route to the final.
The sport has been dominated in recent years by the rivalry at the top between van Gerwen and Phil Taylor, but Taylor retired following the World Championship, meaning the Masters will be without the darts legend for the first time. His retirement creates an opportunity for other players to step up and challenge van Gerwen’s supremacy.
One player who’ll be looking to do that is Rob Cross. This time last year, the 27-year-old was a complete unknown and had just given up his job as an electrician to turn professional. The newbie steadily established himself as the year went on, reaching the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam of Darts.
A red hot Cross then reached the semis of the Players Championship before finishing runner-up to van Gerwen in the European Championship. Then, in December, he took the darts world by storm by eventually winning the World Championship – having been an incredible 125/1 outside at the start of the tournament.
Cross is now the number three seed after scooping £400,000 for his triumph at Alexandra Palace, but he’s second favourite at Ladbrokes with odds of 4/1. He’s been placed in a separate half of the draw to van Gerwen, which is why the bookie has him at evens to make the final, while a van Gerwen/Cross final could is at odds of 13/8.
A more experienced contender is Scotland’s Gary Anderson, who was runner-up to van Gerwen in the Masters last year. The number four seed is a two-time world champion, although he’s not won a major event since his World Championship victory in 2016, which would seem to suggest his best days are behind him.
However, he’s normally there or thereabouts in the latter stages of these tournaments, and ‘The Flying Scotsman’ can be backed at odds of 7/1 with Coral. He’ll probably have to get past van Gerwen in the semis if he wants to get there, though, so his odds of 7/2 to reach the final don’t look particularly great value.
The last of the four leading contenders for the title is fellow Scot, Peter Wright. He’s currently ranked number two in the world only behind MVG, having won the UK Open in 2017 as well as reaching the finals of Premier League Darts, the World Matchplay and the Grand Slam of Darts to name a few of his largest event wins.
He lost to van Gerwen in two of those three finals and the 8/1 shot is at opposite ends of the draw to the Dutchman in this tournament, so Ladbrokes’ odds of 10/3 on a van Gerwen/Wright final are certainly worth considering. For some excellent markets on the 2018 PDC Masters, head over to Ladbrokes before the action starts on Friday!