The second staging of the Bahrain Darts Masters gets underway on Thursday and the overseas tournament features a star-studded cast, including world number one and new champion of the world Luke Humphries.
Joining Cool Hand Luke at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir is his World Championship final victim and emerging talent Luke Littler, as well as Michael van Gerwen, Gerwyn Price, Michael Smith, Rob Cross, Nathan Aspinall and Peter Wright.
Those PDC superstars, who are the confirmed Premier League Darts line-up, are joined in the 16-runner event by eight Asian representatives.
The tournament’s lesser lights include Filipino trio Lourence Ilagan, Paolo Nebrida and Reynaldo Rivera, Man Lok Leung from Hong Kong, Japanese pair Haruki Muramatsu and Tomoya Goto and local hopes Abdulla Saeed and Hasan Haji.
The seedings of the eight PDC performers are decided based on their current world rankings and their opening round showdown will be against one of the Asian contingent.
Van Gerwen is a 7/2 chance, alongside rising force Littler, with Welsh wonder Price to put a poor World Championship behind him.
The draw has yet to be finalised but the silverware is all-but certainly going to go to one of the PDC Tour’s heavy hitters.
|Bahrain Darts Masters
|Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain
|Thursday 18th January - Friday 19th January
|How to watch
|ITV4 & bet365's Sports Live Streaming
|Luke Humphries 2/1, Michael van Gerwen 7/2, Luke Littler 7/2, Gerwyn Price 6/1, Michael Smith 17/2, Rob Cross 10/1, Nathan Aspinall 14/1, Peter Wright 22/1
Cool Hand Luke has quickly emerged as darts' dominant force, having only won his first major title at the World Grand Prix in October.
However, that breakthrough success filled Humphries with the confidence he needed and he has since built on that with victories at the Grand Slam of Darts, Players Championship Finals and the PDC World Championship.
So, now a four-time major champion, Humphries will be oozing with belief and he will be well aware that right now he is the best player on the planet.
The 28-year-old has won 19 consecutive matches and his performances improved as the World Championship progressed, showing that he has a B game to go with his brilliant best.
There is a possibility of a hangover, as he allows his achievements to settle in, but it didn’t stop Smith from taking the title last season on the back of his World Championship breakthrough.
Humphries is a hard-working player who will want the winning run to continue and it is easy to see why he heads the betting at 2/1.
Littler, who became the youngest player to reach the World Championship final at the start of January, is going to get plenty of attention.
The qualifier had to win six matches to make the title decider at Alexandra Palace, which included accounting for Raymond van Barneveld, Gary Anderson’s conqueror Brendan Dolan and former world champion Cross.
A 101.13 average wasn’t quite enough in the final to live with the all-conquering Humphries, but it was another remarkable performance which hinted that he could be the future of darts.
Littler now has to prove that wasn’t a flash in the pan and that adds to the pressure, while travelling to a new country as one of the PDC’s superstars is uncharted territory.
That, perhaps, makes his title odds of 7/2 short enough and, while he undoubtedly has the talent to triumph, it could be best watching to see how he handles the situation.
The days of Van Gerwen reeling off tournament after tournament are no longer and he has gone all season without winning a major title, losing in the final of the UK Open and the Players Championship Finals.
Mighty Mike was also beaten in the quarter-final of the World Championship recently by Scott Williams, showing that he is not as feared as he once was.
Van Gerwen didn’t compete in this event last year but Humphries’ recent success will have him motivated to return to winning ways.
That looks easier said than done in a field of this magnitude, though, and at 7/2 you could argue he needs everything to fall right.
While Price, Aspinall and Wright have plenty to prove, Cross should be pretty pleased with how he is performing and his recent run to the semi-final of the World Championship was another step back in the right direction.
Voltage had whitewashed Jonny Clayton 4-0 and came from four sets down to defeat the in-form Chis Dobey before bumping into Littler, who averaged 106.05 in a 6-2 victory.
Cross has also finished runner-up at the Grand Slam of Darts this season and he could prove to be Humphries’ biggest obstacle on the way to the title.
The 33-year-old made the semi-final of this event last season, crashing out in a 7-2 defeat to Price, but looks in better form than the Welshman at present.