Michael Smith makes his first appearance as the new champion of the world when the 2023 World Series kicks off in the Gulf with the Bahrain Darts Masters.
The two-day event at the Bahrain International Circuit, the first of six World Series tournaments over the course of the year, sees Smith and seven other PDC aces lock horns with eight Asian representatives.
|What||Bahrain Darts Masters|
|Where||Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain|
|How to watch||ITV4 & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Michael Smith 9/4, Gerwyn Price 4/1, Jonny Clayton 11/2, Luke Humphries 6/1, Peter Wright 7/1, Rob Cross 9/1, Dimitri van den Bergh 9/1|
The Bahrain Darts Masters is the first of six World Series events, with five qualifiers producing the 24 players who will contest the finals in Amsterdam in September.
Each of the five World Series qualifiers – the other four are in Denmark, the United States, New Zealand and Australia – pit eight of the PDC's big guns against eight regional talents.
In Bahrain, top seed and newly-crowned world champ and world No.1 Smith, the 9/4 favourite To Win Outright, has drawn local qualifier and mechanic by trade Abdulnasser Yussuf in round one of the 16-man tournament. Smith is a 1/50 shot To Win Match and 12/5 to win 6-0.
Former Premier League winner Jonny Clayton has been paired with another qualifier, Basem Mahmood, who works as a banker in the Gulf state. The Ferret has been chalked up at 1/25 To Win Match.
While the two Bahrain qualifiers will be new names to anyone outside of their own country, there is plenty of pedigree among the other six Asian representatives.
Japan's Toru Suzuki played at the recently-completed World Championship while compatriot Yuki Yumada and India's Nitin Kumar have both appeared at the Ally Pally.
And the Bahrain Darts Masters also sees a welcome return to our TV screens of Paul Lim, an absentee at Alexandra Palace over Christmas and the New Year but ready to show the darting world in general, and Gerwyn Price in particular, that he can still cut it at the grand old age of 68.
The Singapore Slinger, still a World Cup regular and a big noise in Far East darts, is the biggest name of the eight Asian aces.
That said, he is an 8/1 chance against Price, who was last seen wearing headphones at the Palace to drown out hostile crowd noise, something that won't be necessary at an appreciative Bahrain International Circuit.
Price is the reigning World Series champion – he beat Dirk van Duijvenbode 11-10 in a thriller in last year's final in Amsterdam – and he's 4/1 to open the 2023 campaign by winning in Bahrain.
And he'll be doubly determined after the manner of his demise at the hands of Gabriel Clemens in London.
Indeed, all of the PDC aces – except Smith, of course – have points to prove although Michael van Gerwen won't have the chance to avenge his final loss at the hands of Bully Boy.
The Green Machine is the one notable absentee from the elite field, depriving Bahraini crowds of seeing a player who was in inspired form at the Palace until the final. Van Gerwen also boasts a superb record in World Series with 17 wins down the years – nine more than anyone else – including four finals.
Van Gerwen's absence opens the door for the likes of Smith, Clayton and Price while the other five PDC representatives are Peter Wright, Luke Humphries, Dimitri van den Bergh, Rob Cross and Raymond van Barneveld.
Barney's stature in the game means he'll be the fans' favourite, though at 20/1 To Win Outright, the evergreen Dutchman is the least fancied of the Big Eight.
If Smith repeats the form he showed in toppling MVG less than a fortnight ago, he would be irresistible. Two major titles in two months is the form of a man at the peak of his powers.
However, life since the second of those finals will have been a circus and that's something some players find hard to deal with. Rob Cross was one of those.
After he won the world title in 2018 there was a slow descent from those dizzy heights, although he looks back to close to his best now.
Voltage – 1/8 to beat Kumar in round one – threw beautifully getting to the Players Championship Finals in November and then produced three 99-plus averages at Alexandra Palace. He's 9/1 To Win Outright in Bahrain and looks nicely priced.