Burnett eyes his second title

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The Independent Online

After a dream debut last year Richie Burnett, the pride of the Rhondda valleys, is favourite to land the Embassy World Professional Championship and bank the richest prize in the sport when he starts the defence of his title at the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, Surrey today.

This year's winner will receive pounds 36,000 from a total prize fund of pounds 150,000, making the championship the most lucrative since the event began in 1978.

The tournament begins on the same day as the final of the Vernons Pools World Championship at Purfleet, run by the World Council. It features Phil Taylor against Dennis Priestley.

The debate over which is the bigger event has raged since the split took place over two years ago. More than 100 tournaments in 40 countries were staged to bring the Embassy field down to 32 players for the final stages, while the WDC have fewer than 50 regular players in their ranks. But the WDC claim, with some justification, that there tournament features the finest players.

However, at the Embassy 12 months ago every previous event record was broken and eight of the top 10 averages from the two world championships were set at Frimley Green. The Dutchman Raymond Barneveld, who was runner- up to Burnett, had 29 maximum 180s during the Embassy event, another outstanding record.

Taylor and Priestley are still considered the two best players in the world and they went a long way in proving this with some breathtaking darts in yesterday's semi-finals.

Taylor, the defending champion, lost a set for the first time in the tournament on his way to beating John Lowe 5-1. Taylor, Stoke-born but now running a pub in Newcastle under Lyme, has been in superlative form since the competition began on Wednesday. He beat both Cliff Lazarenko and Shayne Burgess 3-0 in his group and Keith Deller 4-0 in the quarter- finals.

Priestley, however, will be no pushover, as his form has matched Taylor's and the Yorkshireman beat his great rival in the final when this event was first held two years ago. Yesterday it was Jamie Harvey's turn to bow to the accuracy of Priestley, the Scot losing 5-1.