MICHAEL VAN GERWEN made a dominant start in his bid to win a third successive Unibet Masters title by seeing off Simon Whitlock on Saturday night in Milton Keynes as Mensur Suljovic, Robert Thornton and Adrian Lewis also progressed.
The world number one made his first competitive appearance since winning the World Championship title almost four weeks ago with a 10-6 victory over Australian ace Whitlock.
Whitlock matched Van Gerwen's ten 180s in a heavy-scoring contest, but saw the Dutchman come from a leg down to lead 4-1, 7-2 and 9-4 before closing out victory with an average of 105.40.
Van Gerwen now meets Suljovic in Sunday afternoon's quarter-finals at Arena MK as he aims to continue his incredible run of success and win a sixth straight tournament.
"I kept the pressure on Simon, nearly every time he hit a 180 I hit one straight back and I think I was always in control," said Van Gerwen.
"I missed a lot of doubles and I think I was too relaxed, I need to get back into my rhythm but I still played well. I had a 105 average and won so I'm happy.
"I've had some time off since the World Championship and had a holiday but I've got to focus again now. I want to keep winning and I'm looking forward to tomorrow, I feel good and we'll see what happens."
Suljovic made a confident return to action with a superb 10-4 win over Jelle Klaasen, who landed a 167 finish as he shared the opening six legs before the Austrian pulled clear.
The 2016 European Championship finalist averaged 100 and finished ten doubles from 17 attempts as he enjoyed a memorable Masters debut.
"I'm very happy, it was a brilliant performance," said Suljovic. "I finished very well and it's great for me. I felt comfortable today but every day is different and I have to get ready for the quarter-finals."
Scottish ace Thornton won a sudden-death leg against 2014 Masters champion James Wade to move through to the quarter-finals with a narrow 10-9 win.
Wade hit back from 3-0 down to lead 7-5 and 8-7 before the 2015 World Grand Prix winner moved 9-8 up.
The left-hander then forced a decider with a sensational 161 checkout, but Thornton opened the final leg with his seventh 180 before finishing double six for a 14-darter.
"I'm so chuffed, it's absolutely brilliant," said Thornton. "I've had a bad run and recently I've put the darts down for a bit and not practised as much.
"I lost my hunger for a while but it's back and you could see that on stage - I love a fight and this was a big scrap. Hopefully this is the start of my form coming back."
Thornton now meets Lewis in the quarter-finals, after the two-time World Champion reeled off five straight legs to defeat Kim Huybrechts 10-6.
The Belgian led 2-0 and 5-3 before Lewis took out a brilliant 136 to break throw as he levelled at five-all, and though Huybrechts edged leg 11, the world number four took out 121 and hit two 180s and a 174 to pull clear before finishing a double-double 96 to seal the victory.
"I thought it was a great game," said Lewis. "Kim's one of the best scorers around and when I first lost the throw I couldn't get the break back, but the 136 to get back to five-each was a turning point.
"For the last year or 18 months I've not been at my best but I've got a massive year ahead and to start like this is good."
The £200,000 Unibet Masters, live on ITV4, concludes on Sunday, with the afternoon session's quarter-finals followed in the evening session by the semi-finals and final.
Watch live on ITV4 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
Saturday January 28
Mensur Suljovic (8) 10-4 Jelle Klaasen (9)
James Wade (5) 9-10 Robert Thornton (12)
Michael van Gerwen (1) 10-6 Simon Whitlock (16)
Adrian Lewis (4) 10-6 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)
Robert Thornton (12) v Adrian Lewis (4)
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Mensur Suljovic (8)
Evening Session (7pm)
Anderson (2)/Van Barneveld (10) v Taylor (6)/Wright (3)
Van Gerwen (1)/Suljovic (8) v Thornton (12)/Lewis (4)
First Round - Best of 19 legs
Quarter-Finals - Best of 19 legs
Semi-Finals - Best of 21 legs
Final - Best of 21 legs