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UK Open Darts preview: Wide open field for Butlin's major

The UK Open, famously celebrated as the FA Cup of Darts, takes place at Butlin's, Minehead this weekend, with over 150 players set to toe the oche in pursuit of a £110,000 winner's cheque.

It’s the most wide open of all the PDC’s majors, with 12 different winners in the event’s 21-year history.

The most recent of those was Andrew Gilding, a rank outsider when he arrived in the Somerset resort 12 months ago, who went home coveting the trophy.

Three-time winner Michael van Gerwen, beaten by Gilding in last year’s final, is 11/2 to go one better this year, with World Championship runner-up Luke Littler at 13/2 and Luke Humphries, the man who beat The Nuke in that final at Alexandra Palace, available at 15/2.

Open draw keeps stars on their toes

What stands the UK Open apart from all the other darts majors is the depth of the field and the openness of the draw.

All 128 Tour card holders, plus Development Tour and Challenge Tour qualifiers, are joined by 16 amateur qualifiers in the biggest field of the year.

There are three rounds on Friday afternoon before the fourth round on Friday evening, which features the 32 top-ranked players plus the 32 lesser lights who made it through the afternoon session.

And from round four onwards the draws are completely open with no seedings, hence the FA Cup parallels.

Flying Scotsman hopes to steam to glory

The Premier League big guns naturally dominate the betting though one man who has muscled his way into the top echelons of the betting is Gary Anderson.

The Flying Scotsman may be 53 now but he’s twice a finalist - winning once - and loves the fact that he doesn’t have far to commute from his home along the Somerset coast.

Anderson is a 10/1 shot and will be popular having already reached two of the four Players Championship finals played this year, winning one of them.

Ryan Searle has trumped that by reaching three PC finals - winning one - and gets a 20/1 quote while Masters winners Stephen Bunting can be backed at 18/1.

Premier League stars bound to be popular

But three other winners in 2024 make the betting, the Premier League trio of Van Gerwen, Littler and Humphries.

Cool Hand, a beaten UK Open finalist in 2021, kicked off the year by being crowned world champion and even though it’s been a struggle to follow that triumph up, his averages are still impressive and he’ll be popular at 15/2.

Littler has taken to the pro ranks like a duck to water, making the final at Alexandra Palace and going on to win the Bahrain Masters and the opening Players Championship heat of 2024.

He’s walking on water these days and the 17-year-old will be fancied at 13/2.

But no one is in better form than 11/2 shot Van Gerwen, the winner of the Dutch Masters and three of the first four Premier League mini-leagues.

He’s a three-time UK Open winner and will be hell-bent to go one better than last year when, despite being an overwhelming odds-on shot, he lost 11-10 to Gilding in a gripping final.

Goldfinger offers glint of hope for outsiders

Punters needing convincing that outsiders have a chance at the UK Open need only look back 12 months when 200/1 shot Gilding went in.

Pretty much a skinner for the industry, he was the most unlikely champion in the history of the tournament and his feats will encourage everyone who toes the oche in Minehead to believe their name could be on that trophy.

The likes of Raymond van Barneveld (100/1), James Wade (66/1), Peter Wright (28/1), Nathan Aspinall (33/1) and Danny Noppert (40/1), are other former winners in the field, while previous finalists of the calibre of Gerwyn Price (10/1), Rob Cross (22/1) and Michael Smith (16/1) will also have their admirers.

The open nature of the draw, of course, means rankings count for nothing and any of the big guns could clash from round four onwards.

Which in turn opens the door for perhaps the next Andrew Gilding, himself a 125/1 chance to produce a fairytale repeat.

Only three men - the great Phil Taylor, Van Barneveld and Van Gerwen - have retained the trophy so Goldfinger would be in high-class company if the impossible did happen.

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