By Alex Moss
12 DECEMBER 2016 • 6:45PM
The most lucrative tournament in darts begins on Thursday and this year with an even bigger prize pot.
Gary Anderson walked away with £300,000 after beating Adrian Lewis in the last final at Alexandra Palace at the start of this year, but on January 2, 2017 one man will pick up £350,000 — the largest winner’s cheque in the history of the sport.
While it has been Michael van Gerwen, the outright number one on the PDC Order of Merit, who has been dominating the circuit, the last two stagings of the William Hill World Darts Championship have both been won by Anderson.
A 6-3 defeat in the semi-finals to Anderson two years ago, followed by a 4-3 loss against Raymond van Barneveld in a third round classic last year, means it has been three years since van Gerwen has contested in the decider for the richest prize darts has to offer. It was on New Year’s Day 2014 when van Gerwen won his first world title, beating Peter Wright 7-4.
Many critics are predicting the 2017 final to be a repeat of that final in 2014 and the same outcome with the Green Machine coming out on top.
It is hard to argue against there being two players coming into this tournament with better form than van Gerwen and Wright.
While it has been MVG who has been taking home the big trophies, winning every major singles title this year, Wright has reached the finals of the UK Open and the World Series of Darts Finals, as well as enjoying runs to the semi-finals of the European Championship, Grand Slam and Players Championship Finals.
Wright has reaped the benefits of climbing up to third on the PDC Order of Merit last month, with one of the more favourable quarters of the draw.
A potential quarter-final clash with James Wade could await the 2014 runner-up, and it is hard to see the Scot not getting to that stage at least.
In the quarter above him, defending champion Anderson is the second seed and could face a tricky quarter-final meeting with Dave Chisnall or Jelle Klaasen, with Benito van de Pas and Terry Jenkins his possible opponents in the round before that.
The top half of the draw is headed up by first seed van Gerwen, who, despite his high ranking, has one of the toughest quarters of the draw on paper.
Stephen Bunting or Simon Whitlock could be his opponent in the last 16, while Mensur Suljovic, Robert Thornton and Daryl Gurney are all possible players that could face him in the last eight.
Ironically, the two last players to have beaten van Gerwen in a competitive match are Gurney and Whitlock, with the former handing the Dutchman his most recent defeat in the German Darts Championship in mid-October.
If van Gerwen can get through his quarter of the draw, he is likely to come up against one of three familiar rivals.
Lewis, van Barneveld and Phil Taylor have 23 world titles between them and are all situated in the second quarter of the draw.
Only one of them will be able to make it through to the semi-finals at the Alexandra Palace and a potential clash with MVG.
It was Barney who famously knocked out van Gerwen in the last World Championship, while Taylor beat Mighty Mike twice in as many days on his way to winning the inaugural Champions League of Darts back in September.
Although it will be his debut in the competition, do not discount Corey Cadby from causing an upset or two in this quarter.
The young Australian has gained plenty of followers this year after beating Taylor in the World Series, and then winning the World Youth Championship two weeks ago.
One of many subplots to this tournament is the battle to be picked for the Premier League.
With world number eight Suljovic reported to have told the PDC he does not want to be considered for selection, the line-up for 2017 is far from complete.
There will be 72 players from 22 different countries bidding to get their hands on the Sid Waddell Trophy over the next three weeks, will it go with the script which has been followed in 2016 and back in the hands of van Gerwen? Or will his dominance once again be halted on the biggest stage of all?