Phil Taylor touches down in the Capital this weekend, confident of retaining his crown when the Unibet Masters returns to Ingliston.
However, the 16-times world champion is wary of the threat posed by home favourites Gary Anderson, Robert Thornton and Peter Wright – all of whom, he believes, are capable of taking the title.
Taylor became the event’s inaugural champion at the Royal Highland Centre last November after a crushing 10-1 defeat of Adrian Lewis in the final, but he is treading carefully this time with the Scottish trio, in particular, ready to pounce should he fall below par.
Asked if this weekend represents the strongest challenge he has encountered from opponents north of the Border, the 54-year-old replied: “Without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve got a soft spot for Gary anyway, but they’re all playing really well.
“Robert is playing superb and Pete is doing okay so you’ve got to play well to beat them.”
The event takes in the world’s top-ranked 16 players with current world champion Michael Van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld and James Wade just some of the household names on show.
Taylor has been paired with compatriot Wes Newton in Saturday evening’s first-round session – an opponent he believes has been struggling for form of late, but he is refusing to take anything for granted.
“He [Newton] hasn’t been playing too well lately so you just never know,” Taylor said. “He’s due a good game, so I’m sure he’ll try his best. Normally I bring the best out of people so I’m going to try [and get through to the quarter-finals].
“I didn’t throw a dart for three days at the beginning of the week so it’s been a difficult build-up.”
Taylor insists the will to win has been with him since his youth – an attribute he has carried through his days as a professional darts player.
“It’s just the way I was brought up by my parents,” he explained. “You get up for work and you go and do your job and you do it properly. That’s what I’ve always done. I don’t work as hard as I used to – I’ve got to be honest – but I’ve got a lot more experience. For me, getting rest is just as important as my practice now. I’m no good if I’m shattered.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back up this weekend because the crowd really get stuck in and enjoy themselves. But I’ve not 100 per cent prepared properly so it could be a hit or a miss for me.
“Players generally do like playing up there [in Scotland]. They’re definitely more passionate and they test your bottle as well.”
Taylor has endured a difficult time this year due to personal reasons that have affected his ability to compete in front of a live audience.
However, he stressed he has found some inner strength to refocus on the job in hand.
He said: “Things are still going on in my private life but things change as you get older, people start changing and there’s nothing you can do about it. Things happen and it’s awful but that’s life.
“I’m more concentrating on January now [World Championships]. It’s not so much about having more titles as it’s about winning the competitions.”
The action at Ingliston begins with two sessions on Saturday followed by the quarter-finals, semis and final on Sunday.
n Staying Power: A Year in My Life by Phil Taylor is published by Hodder & Stoughton £20. Phil will be signing copies on Monday, November 3 at Waterstone’s West End Edinburgh 12.30-1.30pm and WHSmith Argyle St Glasgow 4.00-5.00pm.
Unibet Masters draw:
Round of 16: Peter Wright v Justin Pipe; Dave Chisnall v Robert Thornton; Simon Whitlock v Mervyn King; Adrian Lewis v Kim Huybrechts
Round of 16: James Wade v Brendan Dolan; Phil Taylor v Wes Newton; Michael van Gerwen v Raymond van Barneveld; Gary Anderson v Andy Hamilton
Quarter-finals (12.45pm-5pm); Semi-finals, Final (7pm-11pm)