PHIL TAYLOR began what he plans to be his final year on the PDC circuit by defeating Michael Smith 10-6 in the Unibet Masters first round on Friday night, as Gary Anderson set up a clash with Raymond van Barneveld in Milton Keynes.
Taylor, the 16-time World Champion, has begun to wind down his illustrious career in recent months, and had planned to only compete in televised tournaments during 2017 before reviewing his future at the end of the year.
However, the 56-year-old revealed in a pre-match interview with ITV ahead of his triumph over Smith that he is now intending to retire following the 2018 World Championship.
He went on to average 105 in a strong performance to see off former World Youth Champion Smith, who responded from seeing his rival finish 133 and 91 to lead 2-0 by taking out 100 and an 11-darter as he took a 4-2 cushion.
Taylor, though, hit back to win eight of the next ten legs as he moved through to a quarter-final on Sunday afternoon with Peter Wright.
"At the end of the year, that's me done," said Taylor. "The World Championship will be my last one.
"I can enjoy it more, I think I'm more excited now and I've got butterflies, whereas I didn't have that before. Perhaps that will do me good.
"This is a brilliant start. I've got new darts and they were going lovely. I missed a few doubles and I went 4-2 down and clambered back to five-each, and then I had a chance - and double seven was lovely tonight."
Number three seed Wright secured his place in Sunday's finals day by hitting nine 180s and a key 116 checkout in his 10-5 defeat of Ian White.
"I've been practising really hard," said Wright. "I know Ian's been putting the work in and he's improving all the time, but I also went back after the World Championship and practised harder and harder too.
"I've got the right darts now, and I can beat anyone in the world with them. It's so hard in darts right now - it's like tennis with Andy Murray and what he had to go through to be the number one in the world.
"It's takes a little time, Gary Anderson's like Federer, Michael's like Djokovic and it is such a tough game, but that's what I love about it. I want to be winning titles and I'm coming after Michael!"
World number two Gary Anderson produced the most impressive performance of the opening night in the £200,000 tournament as he averaged almost 110 in a 10-3 demolition of Masters debutant Benito van de Pas.
Van de Pas weathered an early barrage from Anderson to land an 11-darter as he stayed in touch at 3-2, but the two-time World Champion reeled off the next five legs without reply before bettering the Dutchman's 128 checkout with a 142 finish to wrap up the win.
The result saw Anderson bounce back in style from his loss to Michael van Gerwen in the World Championship final almost four weeks ago, as he began his bid to win a maiden Masters title.
"I've had two weeks off since the World Championship without throwing a dart and it's worked," said Anderson, who landed nine maximums in the game. "I've had a break and it's been great.
"I've enjoyed the couple of weeks back at home but I've got my head back on now and we'll see what happens."
Van Barneveld, meanwhile, was in confident mood as he came from 2-0 down to defeat Dave Chisnall 10-5, winning seven straight legs to take charge of the game in mid-match.
"Dave let me in with some missed doubles but I played really well in the middle of the match," said Van Barneveld. "It was fantastic and I'm happy with that.
"It's always hard to come back from two or three weeks off but I played a couple of competition nights in Holland and they helped me. I felt really comfortable."
The first round concludes on Saturday evening with the remaining four matches, including reigning champion Van Gerwen opening his bid to complete a Masters treble against Simon Whitlock.
Two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis faces Kim Huybrechts, 2014 Masters winner James Wade takes on Robert Thornton and Austria's Mensur Suljovic makes his debut in the event against Dutchman Jelle Klaasen.
Watch live on ITV4 from 7pm UK time, and worldwide through the PDC's series of international broadcast partners.
PDCTV-HD Rest of the World Subscribers (outside of the UK, Ireland & Netherlands), can watch live online through www.livepdc.tv .
2017 Unibet Masters
Friday January 27 (7pm)
Dave Chisnall (7) 5-10 Raymond van Barneveld (10)
Phil Taylor (6) 10-6 Michael Smith (11)
Gary Anderson (2) 10-3 Benito van de Pas (15)
Peter Wright (3) 10-5 Ian White (14)
Saturday January 28 (7pm)
Mensur Suljovic (8) v Jelle Klaasen (9)
James Wade (5) v Robert Thornton (12)
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Simon Whitlock (16)
Adrian Lewis (4) v Kim Huybrechts (13)
Sunday January 29
Afternoon Session (12.45pm)
Phil Taylor (6) v Peter Wright (3)
Gary Anderson (2) v Raymond van Barneveld (10)
Wade (5)/Thornton (12) v Lewis (4)/Huybrechts (13)
Van Gerwen (1)/Whitlock (16) v Suljovic (8)/Klaasen (9)
Evening Session (7pm)
First Round - Best of 19 legs
Quarter-Finals - Best of 19 legs
Semi-Finals - Best of 21 legs
Final - Best of 21 legs