MICHAEL VAN GERWEN made a winning start to his defence of the BetVictor Masters title in Milton Keynes on Friday night, as Mensur Suljovic, Dave Chisnall and Stephen Bunting all progressed to the last eight.
World number one Van Gerwen returned to competitive action a month after winning his third World Championship title by seeing off Jonny Clayton 10-5.
Van Gerwen is now unbeaten in 17 matches at the Marshall Arena since the tournament's move to Milton Keynes in 2015, and will be bidding to claim his fifth successive title in Sunday's finals day.
He stormed into a 3-0 lead without Clayton having a dart at a double, landing seven perfect darts in leg two, and also claimed the fourth to extend his dominance.
Clayton hit back to 4-2 with the aid of an 11-darter and remained in the hunt at 6-4 and 7-5 without being able to close the gap any further.
Legs of 11 and 12 darts from Van Gerwen gave him breathing space at 9-5, but Clayton was unable to save the tie as the Dutchman returned to land a third-dart double nine for the win.
"It's not too bad but I know I can do a lot better than this - I played well in this game but I also made too many mistakes," said Van Gerwen.
"I need to get out of holiday mode and start performing. My scoring was okay but I missed too many darts at a double. The form is there but I need to do more now."
Suljovic produced the opening night's most outstanding display to set up a tasty quarter-final tie against Van Gerwen with a 10-1 defeat of Simon Whitlock, averaging over 106 in a superb start to 2019.
The Austrian had lost out in the first round of the World Championship in December, but bounced back into action with a clinical display.
Suljovic's opening 12-darter was cancelled out by double eight from Whitlock in leg two, but the former Champions League winner finished two 13-darters and an 81 finish in a four-leg burst to move 5-1 up.
Further legs of 14, 13 and 12 darts helped Suljovic move to the brink of victory at 9-1, and he sealed his place in Sunday's final stages with a fourth 13-dart finish.
"I'm so happy right now, it was brilliant," said Suljovic." I was really focused on my game and my doubles were very good.
"It's the new year and I started well but Sunday is different and I have to focus and do my best."
Former Masters finalist Chisnall produced a stirring comeback from 5-1 down to claim a 10-8 win over Daryl Gurney.
Players Championship Finals winner Gurney made the stronger start by claiming three early breaks of throw in taking leads of 5-1 and 6-2.
Chisnall, though, took out 93 and 130 in a run of five straight legs to move ahead at 7-6 as he stormed back into the contest, only to then see Gurney edge 8-7 up with back-to-back legs.
Chisnall, though, landed six perfect darts as he levelled in leg 16, punished Gurney for failing to give himself a shot at a double when on 126 as he took a 9-8 lead before finishing 101 to complete the win.
"It feels good to win that," said Chisnall. "It was a battle and I always seem to start slowly, but he let me back in and I took my chances.
"Daryl came out firing but when I got it back to 6-4 I knew I had a chance. I don't give up and I've had a few comebacks before, so I knew I could do it.
"I've been practising a lot since the World Championship and my preparation's been good, so I just want to do it on stage now."
Chisnall now meets Bunting, who made the most of his late call-up to the tournament as he survived one match dart to defeat Darren Webster in a see-saw contest.
World number 17 Bunting replaced Gary Anderson in the field after the Scot was ruled out on Wednesday due to his ongoing back problem, but will now play Chisnall in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
The St Helens ace led 2-0 and 4-1 before Webster hit back to level after ten legs.
Bunting then opened up a two-leg lead, only to see Webster hit back with three in a row - sparked by a key 86 finish - as he punished his opponent's missed doubles to lead 9-8.
Double eight from Bunting forced a deciding leg, and when Webster missed one match dart at double 11 it was the former Lakeside Champion who snatched victory by finishing 86 on the bull.
"It was nervy but I'm so happy to get the win," said Bunting. "I was a bit rusty too because I only came in two days ago.
"I'd like to wish Gary a speedy recovery - you don't want to qualify like I did, but as soon as I got the call I was straight on the practice board to get ready.
"Even at 4-1 up I knew it was going to be a hard game to play because Darren's had the upper hand on me a few times.
"I've come in Gary's place but I want to go and win this now. I've got a day now to get myself ready for Sunday now."
The first round concludes on Saturday evening, with world number two Rob Cross taking on debutant Joe Cullen, Peter Wright playing Adrian Lewis, World Championship finalist Michael Smith up against Ian White and Gerwyn Price taking on James Wade.
The BetVictor Masters then concludes on Sunday with two sessions of action at the Marshall Arena, with the quarter-finals in the afternoon ahead of the semi-finals and final in the evening.
The BetVictor Masters will be broadcast live on ITV4 and worldwide through the PDC's broadcast partners, and through PDCTV-HD for Rest of the World Subscribers.
A very small number of tickets remain for Saturday's session and a limited number of tickets remain for Sunday's action, which are still available from SeeTickets or in person at the MK Dons Box Office.
2019 BetVictor Masters
Friday February 1
4x First Round
Dave Chisnall 10-8 Daryl Gurney
Mensur Suljovic 10-1 Simon Whitlock
Stephen Bunting 10-9 Darren Webster
Michael van Gerwen 10-5 Jonny Clayton
Saturday February 2 (1900 GMT)
4x First Round
Gerwyn Price v James Wade
Rob Cross v Joe Cullen
Michael Smith v Ian White
Peter Wright v Adrian Lewis
Sunday February 3
Afternoon Session (1300 GMT)
Quarter-Finals - Order of Play TBC
Michael van Gerwen v Mensur Suljovic
Dave Chisnall v Stephen Bunting
Cross/Cullen v Price/Wade
Smith/White v Wright/Lewis
Evening Session (1900 GMT)