World champion Michael Smith heads the 16-man field at the New South Wales Darts Masters in Australia, the final qualifying event for next month's World Series of Darts Finals.
Jonny Clayton won the title at the WIN Entertainment Centre in Wollongong 12 months ago but it's his compatriot Gerwyn Price who is 9/4 to win this time round, followed by Smith at .
|What||New South Wales Darts Masters 2023|
|Where||WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong, Australia|
|When||Friday 11th August - Saturday 12th August, 2023|
|How to watch||ITV4 (not live)|
|Odds||Gerwyn Price 9/4, Michael Smith 3/1, Nathan Aspinall 4/1, Rob Cross 17/2|
The New South Wales Darts Masters is the sixth and final qualifying event for this year's World Series of Darts Finals, the last leg of a global tour which has seen the PDC's elite and local qualifiers doing battle in theatres from New York to New Zealand and more points in between.
Eight of the PDC's top stars, headed by Michael Smith, Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright, will be drawn against eight Oceanic stars at the WIN Entertainment Centre, among them former world finalist Simon Whitlock.
There is a £20,000 prize for the winner and ranking points to go towards qualification for next month's World Series of Darts Finals in Amsterdam.
The major absentees from the field are Michael van Gerwen, who has won more World Series events than any other player, and last year's winner Jonny Clayton, who have each stayed at home.
Price did, of course, team up with Jonny Clayton to win the World Cup of Darts. But he was a surprise second-round casualty at the World Matchplay in July and then at last week's New Zealand Darts Masters lost a high-quality semi-final to Rob Cross.
Michael Smith is and like Price chomping at the bit to win another title. He kicked off the 2023 World Series by winning in Bahrain in January, just a couple of weeks after being crowned world champion for the first time.
Since then, however, Bully Boy has managed a solitary floor success in Holland, was also a disappointing second-round flop at Blackpool in the Matchplay and, again like Price, made the semis in New Zealand last weekend.
The Iceman has drawn Harley Kemp in round one while Smith takes on Mal Cuming, who lost to Fallon Sherrock in the first round last year.
Price and Smith will always be confident but so too will be their semi-final conquerors in New Zealand at the weekend, Rob Cross and Nathan Aspinall.
Aspinall, a shot, is living the dream at the moment having won the World Matchplay last month, and he produced the highest single-match average in Hamilton last Saturday, a stunning 110.22 during a clinical 7-2 demolition of Smith.
The other seeds in Wollongong are Peter Wright, this week after being embarrassed by Kiwi hopeful Jonny Tata in round one last week, Dimitri van den Bergh, Danny Noppert and Australia's Damon Heta, a two-time winner on tour this summer and bound to be well supported.
When it comes to local support, however, Simon Whitlock knows he will have the crowd on his side when he toes the oche against Aspinall in round one.
The Wizard, who lives just an hour up the road when he is in Australia, is the man who has put Aussie darts on the map.
And he proved last year – when he teamed up with Damon Heta to win the World Cup – that he still has big titles in him.
At 100/1 the prospects of Whitlock striking gold in Wollongong appear to be fairly remote but he's the one Oceanic qualifier the big guns wouldn't have wanted in round one, and Aspinall knows he will have to be at his best if he is to come through that test.
Twelve months ago Whitlock was a massive outsider when he drew Michael van Gerwen in round one and defied those odds with a stunning 6-5 win. The Asp has been warned.