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PDC - Darts: Top stars braced for a Butlin's knees-up

A field of over 150 players has gathered at Butlin's resort in Minehead for this weekend's UK Open, the most wide-open of all the PDC's major titles and one that darts punters simply adore.

They like a party at Butlin's Minehead and this weekend the Somerset venue hosts a bumper knees-up as the great and the good from the PDC's ranks gather for the 20th running of the UK Open.

All the big names, like world champ Peter Wright, three-time winner Michael van Gerwen and world No.1 and 7/2 favourite Gerwyn Price are in the house, alongside all the other top stars plus a whole load of qualifiers rubbing shoulders with – and hoping to get the chance to play against – some of their heroes.

No wonder they call it the FA Cup of Darts though the potential for David-and-Goliath ties isn't the only reason this very special tournament has earned that moniker.

What also stands the UK Open apart, and why the FA Cup metaphor is so fitting, is that the draw from the last 64 onwards is a free one. Unlike the other PDC events, there is no draw bracket based on a seeding, so anyone can draw anyone all the way to Sunday night's semi-finals.

It's unique, it's great fun and it's also an opportunity for punters to delve deeper than usual down the coupon given the vagaries of how the draw works.

Big-priced players a big deal at the UK Open

This is the 20th edition of the UK Open and the winner's enclosure has been filled by the usual suspects – though not as often as you might expect.

Phil Taylor, for example, was world champion 16 times. Yet he managed only five UK Open successes. Raymond van Barneveld is a five-time world champ but has only a pair of UK Open crowns on his mantelpiece.

There have been 24 different finalists since the first running back in 2003, testament to just how wide open the competition is.

And that many different finalists it follows that a lot made the frame at big prices – ten of the previous 19 finals have featured one player at three-figure odds, including the likes of Shayne Burgess, Barrie Bates and Gary Mawson, names from yesteryear for whom the UK Open was their moment to shine. Even Gerwyn Price, the current world No.1 and very much the man to beat, was a 150/1 shot when he reached the final in 2017.

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Format favours the top 32 in the world

Where the world rankings do give the big boys an edge is that players enter the competition at different stages.

Friday lunchtime's round one, for example, features players ranked 97-128 in the rankings plus a glut of Development Tour, Challenge Tour and Rileys qualifiers, the latter open to anyone regardless of PDC status.

Among the household names lining up in that round are former Lakeside world champions Richie Burnett, Jelle Klaasen and Scott Waites, though Waites does at least have a bye into round two. Klaasen, who made the last eight of this event just two years ago and was in the Premier League as recently as 2017, is a massive 450/1 this year. How the mighty fall.

Players ranked 65-96 come in to the event in round two and those ranked between 33-64 in the PDC's Order of Merit make their entrance in round three.

That's when the likes of Barney, Adrian Lewis, Kim Huybrechts and a whole host of other big runners come to the party with Barney drawn to meet Willie Borland, the young Scot who made a massive name for himself at Alexandra Palace before Christmas when he closed out his world championship tie with Bradley Brooks by nailing a nine-dart leg. For all that, former winner Barney is 4/9 to see off Big Willie.

And once round three is completed, that's when the top 32 enter the fray, all to a man praying that the draw is kind to them.

Gezzy's record deserves the utmost respect

Welsh world No.1 Gerwyn Price goes off a 7/2 shot which might seem short enough without the protection of a top seeding, yet his record in this event and his form are hard to ignore.

Since his dispiriting failed defence of his world title at New Year, Gezzy has been absolutely flying, reaching a semi-final and a final in the four Pro Tour events played thus far, hitting two nine-darters in one night in the Premier League and then taking the winner's cheque at last weekend's International Darts Open after a handsome 8-4 victory over Peter Wright in the final.

And at the UK Open, where even The Power suffered his share of early exits, Price has reached at least the quarter-finals in each of the last five runnings.

The big drifter of the 'Big Four' is Michael van Gerwen, whose form is so patchy that he goes into this at 15/2, incredible for a giant of the game who was just 5/2 when he won the title for a third time two years ago.

Champion Wade will be on a few shortlists

But, as suggested earlier, this competition is one where there is no end of possible finalists and any number of big-priced runners who could make the frame.

James Wade, for example, is 50/1. He's the defending champion, a multiple major winner and in good form.

Callan Rydz, a star in the making after making the world quarter-finals, is a 66/1 chance while the irrepressible Barney can be backed at 150/1.

Niels Zonneveld is throwing well, so too Josh Rock. They are 300/1 and 350/1 respectively while there's been interest in Connor Scutt, another 300/1 chance.

It might seem daft to be even mentioning their names in a tournament featuring the likes of Price, Wright and Mighty Michael van Gerwen – but history says that's definitely not the case.

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