2023 CAZOO UK OPEN PREVIEW - NOPPERT AIMING FOR TITLE DEFENCE
The 2023 Cazoo UK Open begins on Friday at Butlin's Minehead Resort, as Danny Noppert begins his defence of the coveted title amongst a 158-player field in the annual festival of darts.
The unique multi-board event, which takes place from March 3-5, will see PDC Tour Card Holders compete for the 110,000 pound top prize against players from the Challenge Tour, Development Tour and Rileys Amateur Qualifiers.
The opening day will see all 158 players in action, as the first four rounds take place across eight stages, with Friday's bumper afternoon session getting underway from 1100 GMT.
The first round will feature Tour Card Holders ranked 97-126, along with players from the 2022 Challenge and Development Tours, plus 16 Rileys Amateur Qualifiers.
The first round winners will be joined by Tour Card Holders ranked 65-96 in round two, with the 32 second round winners joined by Tour Card Holders ranked 33-64 in round three.
The world's top 32 enter the fray in Friday evening's fourth round, including reigning champion Noppert, three-time winner Michael van Gerwen and World Champion Michael Smith, the runner-up 12 months ago.
Former champions Peter Wright, James Wade, Nathan Aspinall, Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld will also enter at the fourth round stage, in what is set to be a blockbuster opening night.
Last year's tournament saw Noppert clinch his maiden PDC televised title in a dramatic final, after the Dutchman survived a match dart before producing a 13-dart break to deny Smith in a last-leg shoot-out.
Noppert has since established himself within the world's top eight after reaching a further two televised semi-finals in 2022, and is in confident mood ahead of his title defence.
"Last year it was really special to win the title," reflected Noppert, who became the fourth Dutch player to celebrate UK Open success.
"I don't want to put myself under too much pressure this weekend, but it's a nice tournament for me and I'm excited to be back.
"Not every dart player can say that they've won a title on TV so it was a great moment for me.
"That win gave me a lot of belief. I think I had a good year and I was a lot more confident in the televised tournaments, because winning gives you more self-belief."
Elsewhere, 2021 runner-up Luke Humphries will also enter this year's event in round four, having catapulted himself into the world's top five following a breakthrough 2022 campaign.
The 28-year-old scooped four European Tour titles last year to reaffirm his big stage credentials, and he's bidding to cement his progress by landing a first televised ranking title in the South West.
"Winning a big TV title is the next step for me," said Humphries, who was beaten by three-time champion Wade in the 2021 decider.
"I have won everything else, so the next step is to win that major title. I'm going to keep searching for it, and if I turn up and play like I can at any TV event, it can happen.
"I love playing at Minehead. I made the final of the UK Open in 2021 and the semi-finals of the Players Championship Finals last year, so hopefully my good record at Butlin's continues!
"It would be a big statement if I could pick up that title this weekend. I'm playing well, my performances have been there, so it's a great opportunity for me."
Two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis won the event's first staging at Minehead in 2014, and he will begin his campaign in round three against Joe Murnan on Friday afternoon.
The Stoke-on-Trent star will celebrate his 20th UK Open appearance this weekend, and is hoping to mark the milestone in style following a frustrating start to 2023.
"I think I've got a running average of 97 this season and I've only picked up a few wins, but that's darts," conceded Lewis, one of eight former champions in this year's field.
"I believe my luck will change, so I'm going to keep working hard and try to maintain the consistency that I've shown in my performances so far this year.
"I'm really looking forward to this weekend. I love the UK Open. The open draw is exciting and it's a tournament that holds fond memories for me.
"I would love to win this again. It's one of the hardest titles to win and it would give me so much confidence. I'd be over the moon!"
Following the conclusion of Friday afternoon's third round action, an open draw will be made live on the Main Stage for round four, with further draws to be made following each subsequent round.
The action will continue on Saturday March 4 with the fifth and sixth rounds across two sessions, before the Main Stage will play host to the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final on Sunday.
This year's Cazoo UK Open will see prize money increased by 150,000 Pound to a total of 600,000 Pound - including 110,000 Pound to the eventual champion, with the tournament also paying down to the last 128 for the first time.
Main Stage matches across all three days will be broadcast live on ITV4 for UK viewers, through the PDC's international broadcast partners, including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV for Rest of the World Subscribers.
Stage Two action on Friday and Saturday will be streamed exclusively for all PDCTV Subscribers worldwide, with commentary from Dan McCarthy and Paul Nicholson.
In addition, matches from Stages Three to Eight will be live on PDCTV on Friday and Saturday, meaning that for the first time in UK Open history, every match of the tournament will be broadcast live.