Arriving to Blackpool this afternoon, ahead of the opening weekend of the 2017 World Matchplay, it certainly had the feel of the calm before the storm.
Tomorrow night, three of the top six players in the world will grace the Winter Gardens stage on the first night of the tournament, while a rejuvenated Michael Smith is also in action.
With Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and James Wade all set to be in action, the opening night of this year’s World Matchplay should provide plenty of fireworks.
Year after year the 32-player field for this summer major seems to get stronger and stronger. The first round sees the top 16 players on the PDC Order of Merit go up against the next top 16 players from the Pro Tour Order of Merit, and many are expecting seeds to tumble.
Back to Blackpool though, and I did manage to have a brief look outside the Winter Gardens upon my arrival into Lancashire. I stumbled upon it without even looking out for it, such was its proximity right in the seaside resort’s town centre.
I’ve only heard good things about the Winter Gardens from former and current players, as well as fans and fellow colleagues involved in the darting media, and tomorrow I’ll experience what it’s like inside the venue. I can’t wait!
No sightings of any of the players from me, although with the first round again spread out over three days, it is likely that some of the players scheduled to play on Sunday and Monday won’t be heading to Blackpool until tomorrow.
However, it was hard not to spot the pink shirt of Peter Manley through one of the windows of the many hotels situated a stone’s throw away from the Winter Gardens. The three-time World Championship finalist, who also reached the final here in Blackpool back in 1999, was in exhibition mode as he took on locals at the oche.
One Dart’s playing days at the top of the sport may have been long gone, but he still attracts a good crowd on the exhibition circuit. One of the great characters in the history of the PDC, Manley was at Q-School in January, but was unsuccessful in winning a tour card back onto the main circuit.
Among the many subplots going into this year’s World Matchplay is that of Phil Taylor, and this being his last ever campaign at the Winter Gardens.
The 16-time world champion has 15 World Matchplay titles to his name, and it was here at the Winter Gardens that he hit the first live televised nine darter in the UK back in 2002.
Taylor’s announcement at the start of this year that the 2017-18 season would be his last on the professional circuit means he goes into every tournament now knowing it will be his last chance to win it.
One player who won’t be wanting to see Taylor make it 16 titles in Blackpool is Gerwyn Price. The Welshman takes on Taylor in the first round on Sunday and today spelled out that he had no intentions of helping the sport’s most successful ever player bow out in style at the Winter Gardens.
In a response to the PDC’s tweet, ‘PREVIEW! Taylor looking to bow out in style at the Winter Gardens…’, Price replied ‘No chance’. Can the UK Open and World Cup finalist back up his words on Sunday night?