2012 Darts: Premier League Week 3 Preview
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It has been argued that in darts the Premier League is almost bigger than the Ladbrokes World Championship itself, and it's hard to disagree.
While the prestige of being world champion is greater, most darts fans have a preference for watching the top eight players battling it out each Thursday evening.
Anyone lucky enough to have been watching the Premier League last week will have seen another record bite the dust.
Phil Taylor treated the Aberdeen faithful to his 11th career nine-darter, and Belfast will be hoping for more of the same this week.
In the opener, Kevin Painter will hope to put his Week 2 loss to Phil Taylor behind him. If he's to do this, he will have to overcome unbeaten Aussie Simon Whitlock.
The Wizard will be looking for his second win in succession after thumping James Wade 8-4 last week.
The second game in Belfast offers a repeat of this year's Ladbrokes World Championship final.
Last month Adrian Lewis captured his second successive world championship, and Andy Hamilton will be hoping for a reverse of that meeting.
Scotsman and defending Premier League champion Gary Anderson tussles with James Wade in the third game of the night. Wade needs to find some form if he wants to lift himself off the bottom of the table.
Anderson is hardly the opponent to find form against. He will be confident after an 8-2 win against Hamilton last Thursday.
The best is kept for last as heavyweights Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld square off in the night's final game.
Taylor is fresh off another televised nine-darter. Van Barneveld, on the other hand, looked extremely sharp against Adrian Lewis in their 7-7 draw last week.
You know it's going to be a special game when the two men competing have won 20 world championships between them.
Kevin Painter vs. Simon Whitlock
The Wizard will be hoping to remain undefeated going into week 4
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This game will be more of a measure of Kevin Painter than it will be Simon Whitlock.
The Artist got off to the perfect start in his opening-week win against Gary Anderson. His momentum ground to a halt last week as Phil Taylor maintained his hold over Painter, consigning him to an 8-5 loss.
Now that Painter is rubbing shoulders with the elite, he's going to realize that there's no easy games in the Premier League. He needs to step up and start beating the likes of Taylor, Whitlock and Lewis if he wants to progress beyond the group stage.
Painter has recently undergone laser eye surgery and there has been a marked improvement in his scoring and finishing. If he can fix the mental side of his game, he's in with a real shout in this one.
His opponent Simon Whitlock will not be overly concerned with the prospect of playing Painter this week. While the other seven players are some of the world's best, Whitlock is a former world champion himself.
He looked excellent against a wailing James Wade last week, but you can only beat the man you're up against. If he keeps up with Painter in scoring, his doubles will see him through in this one.
Expect there to only be a leg or two in the difference here.
Andy Hamilton vs. Adrian Lewis
The Hammer will be looking for revenge following their 2012 World Championship final clash
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Andy Hamilton will have you believe that tomorrow night's game isn't about revenge.
Don't let that fool you.
He will be gunning for Lewis in an attempt to exact revenge for their last meeting.
Coming off an 8-2 loss, Hamilton may not be in the best shape to do it. While he looked impressive in the first week, he needs to bounce back.
If he shows this kind of inconsistent form in the league, he'll quickly find himself outside the top four.
Adrian Lewis remains undefeated in the Premier League in 2012. His Week 1 game against Phil Taylor was a case of a point lost rather than gained. Against Barney last week, we saw an inspired Dutchman, so it was a point gained for Jackpot.
He may be a two-time world champion, but he's not the man to beat.
The Power still reigns supreme as the standard-bearer. If Lewis can impose himself and start winning from positions of dominance, he will have a real chance of being crowned Premier League champion this year.
Should he manage a world championship and Premier League double, his position as the world's best would have serious credibility.
While Hamilton is solid, Lewis has that little bit extra. He makes 180's look effortless and had the highest checkout in Week 1. His 140 out-shot against Barney was only topped by Taylor's 147 from his nine-dart leg.
Lewis will hope to break early and finally take home his first win of the 2012 campaign. This is something he is more than capable of.
Gary Anderson vs. James Wade
Gary Anderson will still be wary of the threat posed by an out of sorts James Wade
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If James Wade beats Gary Anderson this Thursday night, nobody will be surprised. What's more surprising is the form of The Machine so far this year.
Ever since he blew a 5-1 lead in the world championship semifinal against Adrian Lewis, he has been out of sorts at the oche.
It's a foolish man that would right off Wade, however.
The 2010 World Grand Prix winner has talent in abundance but has always suffered from what I call ''Ronnieitis.''
Much like the Snooker legend Ronnie O'Sullivan, Wade can struggle with a love for the game.
In a sport where the mental side is as important as the scoring, this can be hazardous. If we see the same bemused-looking Wade as we did last week against Whitlock, we'll probably see the same end result.
Gary Anderson will have been satisfied with last week's result. A night in Scotland was the perfect remedy for his Week 1 loss. What was evident was that it was a case of Hamilton looking poor, so don't read too much into it.
If his failure to hit doubles under pressure continues, this game will be close. Wade was shocking on his normally dependable double-10, Anderson was patchy elsewhere, too.
It's incredible to think that Wade might have three successive losing weeks, but he has the talent to at least secure a point. Don't be surprised if we see a Wade revival.
Raymond Van Barneveld vs. Phil Taylor
Phil Taylor will be hoping for another nine darter in 2012
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Phil Taylor thrives on nights like these. Sometimes Raymond van Barneveld looks like he dreads them.
If Barney's game against Lewis last week is anything to go by, he will be up for it on Thursday in Belfast.
Think back to the world championship final of 2007, which Barney won against Taylor in one of the greatest darts matches of all time. There's no doubting the talent is there.
His struggles to maintain consistent form are obvious for all to see, but he will hope to use Week 3 as a starting point.
Unfortunately for Barney, the man against whom he will hope to claim first win is in dazzling form.
A Week 1 comeback from five legs down to claim a draw, followed by a Week 2 nine-darter speaks volumes about the state of Taylor's game.
He knows historically he has the upper hand on Barney and will respect the threat his greatest foe poses.
It will remain to be seen if this threat can be converted into points on the stage. Taylor is peaking at just the right time and should see this one out.
Prediction: Phil Taylor