25 Jan, 2021
Events

A brand new format for the The Masters this year sees the field increase to 24, meaning that five players from Team Target will compete in Milton Keynes in the first competitive action since the World Championship.

Players ranked between nine and 24 in the world will compete in the first round for the right to take on one of the world's top eight in their next game.

Target's Phil "The Power" Taylor won the inaugural Masters tournament in 2013, but we have not seen a Team Target champion since, with victories from James Wade (2014), Michael van Gerwen (2015-19) and defending champion Peter Wright (2020).

All five of Target's representatives have been placed in the same half of the draw, and below we assess their prospects in the opening tournament of 2021.

Rob Cross

Ranking: 4

Previous best: Quarter-final 2018

Odds: 40-1

Opening game: Glen Durrant or Mervyn King (last 16)

The Masters has not been a happy hunting ground for "Voltage", having won one game on his debut in 2018 and then failed to win a match since. His first round defeat to fellow Target pro Adrian Lewis last year was forgettable, and it turned out to be an indication of how 2020 would pan-out for the three-time major champion.

2021 offers a chance for Cross to get back to his best, and he remains at number five in the world rankings. However, with large chunks of prize money set to disappear from his ranking at the World Matchplay and European Championship later this year, the pressure is on for "Voltage" to keep his place among the very elite.

An early exit at Alexandra Palace to Dirk van Duijvenbode was disappointing, and consequently the sponsors rate his chances below that of half of the field of competitors. Those odds could be made to look foolish though if Cross shows that 2020 was simply a blip in his stellar PDC career.

Nathan Aspinall

Ranking: 5

Previous best: Semi-final 2020

Odds: 16-1

Opening game: Ian White or Mensur Suljovic (last 16)

"The Asp" came within a leg of reaching the final last year on debut at the tournament, having looked completely at home since reaching the top ten in the world rankings. Only Michael Smith stopped him in a last leg decider (with Smith himself missing darts for the title in the final), and there is no reason why Nathan will not fancy being in the mix for the trophy once again this year.

It is about time that the former UK Open champion rediscovered that title-winning feeling, having not won one since the PDC Home Tour during the first lockdown.

"The Asp" has never been ranked higher than he is at the moment, only three players are shorter odds for the title, and he is favourite to come through his quarter of the draw. His fans should feel confident about his chances.

Glen Durrant

Ranking: 13

Previous best: Debut

Odds: 40-1

Opening game: Mervyn King (round one)

"Duzza" goes into his debut campaign at The Masters as the only reigning major champion from Target's ranks, having won the Premier League title last autumn. The three-time Lakeside Champion has now put behind him the covid diagnosis that derailed him for two months, and looked back to somewhere near his belligerent best at the World Championship.

A proven winner, who has already silenced any doubts about his ability to claim major titles in the PDC, Glen has been regularly practising with Target's German star Gabriel Clemens using the DartCounter app to ensure he is ready for action.

Mervyn King will offer a stern examination in the opening round and "Duzza" is only a very narrow favourite, but whoever comes through that tie may fancy their chances for a place in the quarter-finals when they take on Target's top-ranked player Rob Cross.

Stephen Bunting

Ranking: 17

Previous best: Quarter-final 2019

Odds: 100-1

Opening game: Joe Cullen (round one)

Target's top performer from the World Championship is brimming with confidence ahead of his return to The Masters. This is a third appearance at the event for "The Bullet", having played for the first time in 2016 and reached the quarter-finals two years ago.

Bunting benefits from the widened field (as the world number 17 would have missed out by one place in previous years), but few players will be as buoyant about their chances following his superb semi-final run at Alexandra Palace.

The former Lakeside Champion has targeted a return to the world's top ten, and although this is not a ranking tournament, "The Bullet" is on a crest of a wave and will look to make a statement in his first action of 2021.

Adrian Lewis

Ranking: 24

Previous best: Final 2013

Odds: 125-1

Opening game: Michael Smith (round one)

Were it not for the expanded field, this would have been just the second time in history that "Jackpot" had failed to qualify for The Masters, but the former finalist sneaks in as the world number 24. Nobody is longer odds to win the title, however.

Very little went right for Lewis in 2020, and it was not a huge shock to see him beaten by Target's American star Danny Baggish at the World Championship. Adrian's displays at the World Matchplay were a highlight, but the two-time World Champion has not been able to perform consistently enough to keep himself moving in the right direction in the rankings.

There are reasons for optimism though, with Lewis not defending a great deal of prize money from 2019, which means there is an opportunity to make big strides and potentially get back into the top 16. Beating last year's runner-up Michael Smith and then Gary Anderson would be a signal of intent at the start of a very important year for "Jackpot".

Good Luck #TeamTarget!

Event photos © Lawrence Lustig/PDC

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