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After a disappointing World Championship, Phil Taylor is back on top of the darting world and is the firm favourite to win this year’s Premier League Darts. Taylor’s 8-2 defeat to Adrian Lewis on opening night suggested that the upheaval of the darting order that we witnessed over Christmas at the World Championships had a permanency about it. Not so. Since that point, Taylor has won his last 11 games and has a 6-point lead at the top of the table. Although he has outscored and out-finished his opponents, his greatest asset has been his merciless drive to win every game he plays 8-0. The enigmatic , erratic Lewis must scrap for his place in the last four. How times change.

Barely hanging onto Taylor’s coat-tails is Gary Anderson. The Scot has been the only person to regularly average over 100 other than Taylor, and yet hasn’t scored to his full potential. The Premier League is new for Anderson, so perhaps we can forgive him by the fact that he has by his own standards been pedestrian. If he produces his best game at the play-offs in Wembley Arena, he could overwhelm even a resurgent Taylor.

Alongside these two is Ray van Barneveld, who barring a mathematical aberration will be advancing to finals night. Barneveld has been a resurgent figure; not quite the same man who hit 21 180s in beating Phil Taylor to become world champion 4 years ago, but much closer to that high standard than he has been. For years now, Barneveld has looked obviously talented yet mentally weak and resigned to his position in the queue behind Taylor. Now there is a purpose about him, much to the delight of the ‘Barney Army’. Taylor is not the only member of the old guard to have bitten back.

Probably the most intriguing player in the league is James Wade. After a miserable start to his campaign, Wade has gone unbeaten in his past 4 games. Wade isn’t naturally brilliant, but, quick to lose his confidence also, he isn’t exceptionally gritty either. How he has won so many major tournaments in recent years is a question few people can answer. Somehow, he has worked himself into a qualifying spot but he is yet to play Taylor a second time.

Wade’s main contender for the 4th spot is the enigmatic Lewis. Despite being the champion of the world, and perhaps equally importantly, having beaten Taylor five-four in a televised semi last October, Lewis hasn’t fully dispelled the age-old suspicions that he cannot hit big doubles or finish off opponents. It could come down to his final fixture against Anderson, the man he beat to win the world title, whose fast throw might suit his game.

Contesting Wade and Lewis for the final qualifying spot are Simon Whitlock (10 points) and the avuncular Terry Jenkins (8). Jenkins has been typically plucky in winning and drawing his last two games. The bookies are wrong to right him off but it will take more than fighting spirit for him to reach the last 4 from here. And the most conclusive evidence that the darting world has regained a sense of order is Mark Webster. Last Christmas Webster decimated Taylor 5-2 in the quarter-finals at Alexandra Palace, a defeat that some saw as the beginning of the end for Taylor. He is now at the bottom of the table, having lost his last 8 games.

There are two weeks of fixtures remaining this year. The games between Anderson and Lewis and Anderson and Van Barneveld will be pulsating, high-scoring and ultimately brilliant in and of themselves, though the most exciting storyline is the mini-league between Wade, Whitlock and Lewis. Lewis has the advantage in that the other two must play Taylor. The purist, too, must be cheering Lewis’ effortless grace rather than the mechanical, uncharismatic Wade and Whitlock. Lewis and Anderson, representing the new era, and Taylor and Barneveld, representing the established elite, would make an apt line-up in the playoffs.

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