- PDC World Championship
Taylor exit blows world championship wide open
Phil Taylor's early exit from the PDC World Championship has blown the door wide open for the chasing field - after defeat to world youth champion Michael Smith, is The Power's domination finally beginning to show a few cracks? Don't be so sure.
In 2012, Taylor was knocked out at the same stage by a brilliant Dave Chisnall; the Stoke ace came back a year later to stunt Michael van Gerwen's rapid rise to the top and claim a 16th world crown.
That is what Taylor does best. Whenever the word "finished" is murmured around the darting echelons, he silences it by re-raising the bar he set himself. A 100 average quickly becomes 105, then 108.
But, for now, he'll have to go away and lick his wounds while watching someone else lift the Sid Waddell Trophy on New Year's Day. But who has the bottle to seize the most lucrative opportunity on tour?
Van Gerwen, last year's finalist, is the obvious choice to go one better, but truth be told he hasn't been at his awe-inspiring best lately. Right now, two-time champion Adrian Lewis is the better player. 'Jackpot' has enjoyed arguably his best year on the Pro Tour since he won his first world title in 2011; the pair could meet in the semi-final and after his defeat to the Green Machine in last year's quarter-final, Lewis will be hell-bent on revenge.
Raymond van Barneveld and James Wade will go close, but each could respectively face MVG and Lewis in the quarters - which may prove a slight hitch. While both brilliant players, each have recent history of coming unstuck towards the business end of the draw.
Likewise for 2011 finalist Gary Anderson. He plays Brendan Dolan in the second round, but could well be up against Van Gerwen in the third. 'The Flying Scotsman' is a dangerous player, but too many missed doubles could well be the difference when playing someone of Van Gerwen's calibre.
The 2012 runner-up Andy Hamilton has been another big seed to drop following a shock 4-1 loss to former Lakeside champion Richie Burnett. Hamilton beat Burnett by the same scoreline in at the same stage last year, but the Welshman enjoyed sweet revenge in North London. Burnett is playing some of his best darts since making the switch across codes, and with that side of the draw marvellously open, anything is possible.
For others, an impressive run from here could well spell Premier League contention. The likes of Smith, Peter Wright and Ian White are all capable of going far - particularly the latter following his narrow second round win over the much-fancied Kim Huybrechts. That inspiration combined with their ability to produce explosive television performances may well prove to be a deadly asset. Justin Pipe, who has played exceptionally well all year, has a tough route in the Lewis/MVG side of the draw, but don't be surprised if he ruffles a few feathers.
It's as open as it's ever been, but that is exactly why you can't have a Christmas without the darts.
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Rob Bartlett is an Assistant Editor for ESPN UK