A Players Championship tournament usually consists of 128 players. Familiar names participate, but also players who are trying to revive their careers and players who are just starting out their time on the professional circuit. Dartsnews has selected five players to keep an extra eye on during the new Pro Tour season.
Luke Littler (31st in world rankings)
Most eyes will be on Luke Littler during Players Championship 1. 'The Nuke' is the world youth champion, has already been in the World Darts Championship final, played two World Series finals and recently made his debut in the Premier League Darts.
But participation in a Players Championship tournament is still missing from Littler's record. The 17-year-old teenage sensation has only owned a PDC Tour Card since January and was not allowed to participate in the Q-School last year due to his young age. As a result, he is not eligible to compete on the Players Championship circuit until this year. Don't be surprised if Littler has his first Players Championship title in his pocket before spring.
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Kevin Doets (62nd in world ranking)
Kevin Doets is the only nominated player who also held a PDC Tour Card last year. 'Hawk Eye' has developed very well in recent months. Including in September 2023, reaching a Players Championship final. This performance helped him qualify for the World Darts Championship. At Alexandra Palace, however, the Dutchman needed to win his first match to extend his Tour Card. He did just that on the opening day of the World Darts Championship with a convincing 3-0 win over Stowe Buntz.
That same night Doets also faced the then reigning world champion Michael Smith. With excellent play Doets took a 2-1 lead against 'Bullyboy', but the 25-year-old dart player eventually had to concede 3-2.
Earlier this year, Doets showed his mettle again with a fine victory over Peter Wright at the Dutch Darts Masters in Den Bosch. In 2024, Doets has relatively little prize money to defend. If 'Hawk Eye' can maintain his form, he can make considerable strides on the PDC Order of Merit this year.
Danny Lauby Jr. (new Tour Card holder)
Danny Lauby Jr. is another North American dart player on the Pro Tour. The lightning-fast American is holding a Tour Card for the first time, but literally and figuratively already has the necessary flight hours.
The left-handed dart player competed in the 2021 and 2022 PDC World Championships, and performed well at Lakeside in late 2023. Furthermore, he already competed twice at the UK Open and World Cup of Darts.
The 31-year-old Lauby has been considered a promising player for years, but his talent has yet to fully unfold. Over the next two years, Lauby will play almost every week against the best darters in the world. This just might have a very positive effect on Lauby's development.
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Wessel Nijman (new Tour Card holder)
In 2020, Wessel Nijman could briefly dream of a PDC Tour Card after winning a tournament early in the Development Tour season. However, the year turned out differently. The corona pandemic came and the physical tournaments then gave way to online tournaments and leagues. In one of these competitions, Nijman was caught match-fixing, which was followed by a five-year suspension (two and a half years of which were conditional).
In early 2023, Nijman was allowed to return to the PDC Tour. The 23-year-old proved that the suspension did not have disastrous consequences for his darts career. Behind the dominance of Gian van Veen and Luke Littler on the Development Tour 2023, Nijman was "best of the rest" and cleverly managed to pick up three Development Tour titles.
This eventually earned him third place on the PDC Development Tour Order of Merit. Because number one Gian van Veen already had a Tour Card and had already qualified for the World Darts Championship via the Pro Tour, Nijman was allowed to compete at Alexandra Palace in December and has a PDC Tour Card in his pocket for 2024 and 2025.
Nijman's numbers for the 2023 season are impressive. According to statistics platform Darts Orakel, he had a win percentage of 82 percent in 2023 (105 of 128 matches won) and Nijman had an annual average of 93.11. With such a statistic, Nijman certainly will make an impact on the PDC Pro Tour and the Dutchman will undoubtedly be seriously involved in the qualifying race for the World Darts Championship.
Prize Money breakdown for 2024 Players Championship season with increased prize pool of £3,750,000
Leighton Bennett (new Tour Card holder)
Leighton Bennett became youth world champion in 2019 and was allowed to compete in the BDO World Championship at the age of 14. In recent years, however, things went quiet around Bennett, who has since seen his hype surpassed by the performances of Luke Littler.
Possibly inspired by Littler's successes, Bennett secured a Tour Card at Q-School earlier this year. The 18-year-old Englishman played 22 matches during the Q-School and recorded an average of 89.81, only ten players at the Q-School (UK and European Q-School combined) did better than Bennett. It will be interesting to see how Bennett continues to develop in the coming years.