MICHAEL VAN GERWEN will be bidding for a fifth successive BetVictor Masters title as The Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes hosts 16 of the world's biggest stars - live on ITV4.
The opening televised event of the year will be held from February 1-3, with 16 top PDC stars battling it out over three days for the £60,000 top prize.
The £200,000 curtain-raiser for the 2019 campaign will see Van Gerwen out to claim glory for an incredible fifth year in a row in Milton Keynes at a venue which has seen him win all 16 of his Masters matches since 2015.
Competing in his first event since being crowned World Champion for a third time, Van Gerwen will begin his quest for further success on Friday evening against world number 16 Jonny Clayton, who recorded a sensational 5-4 win over the Dutchman at the 2018 Grand Slam of Darts.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on stage as the World Champion," said Van Gerwen.
“It’s been a nice month to enjoy but now it is back to business and The Masters is the start of a new year for darts.
“I have done really well there in the last few years and I’m really confident and determined to win it again. It sends out a message that I’m ready from the very start of the year and that is important to me.
“I know not to take any opponent for granted and playing Jonny Clayton in the first round gives me lost of focus because we have had some great games.
"He’s done very well and deserves to be in the top 16 and a tournament like this you only have the very best players in the world so you can’t afford to make mistakes.”
Welshman Clayton lifted the Austrian Darts Open trophy in 2018 to back up his run to the final of the 2017 Players Championship Finals, and those success has seen him elevated into the sport's elite top 16 for the first time in his career.
"It’s been a great couple of years for me, winning my first PDC title on stage was incredible," said Clayton.
"If I carry playing the way I have been then I should cement my place in the top 16 and that is something to be proud of.
"There are also lots of other opportunities that come with that and it would be huge for my career."
Clayton is one of three Masters debutants at The Marshall Arena, alongside world number 13 Darren Webster and European Championship semi-finalist Joe Cullen.
Cullen missed match darts to reach both the World Matchplay Semi-Finals and European Championship Final in 2018, but is now eager to leave those near-misses behind him as he prepares to take on former World Champion Rob Cross on Saturday.
"I think Rob will be up for it, especially after I came back from 6-1 down to beat him in the European Championship," said Yorkshireman Cullen.
"He seemed to be cruising in that one, so that was a great win for me but he'll be keen to get his own back.
"Maybe we'll be a little bit rusty early doors but once we settle down it should be another good match which I'm really looking forward to.
"I'm a big fan of The Masters event as a concept because I grew up watching the snooker equivalent. It sees the elite of the sport going head-to-head so if you're in it then you know you're heading in the right direction."
Former Masters finalist Gary Anderson was set to star in the event but has been forced to withdraw due to a back injury, and has been replaced by Stephen Bunting.
Friday's opening night kicks off with Players Champion Daryl Gurney taking on four-time televised finalist Dave Chisnall, before World Matchplay finalist Mensur Suljovic meets Australia's Simon Whitlock.
Bunting faces Webster in the third game of the evening, before the meeting between Van Gerwen and Clayton closes the show on night one.
Grand Slam of Darts winner Gerwyn Price faces European Champion James Wade in the first match of Saturday night, before Cross plays Cullen.
World Championship runner-up Michael Smith comes up against world number 11 Ian White, before round one concludes with a mouth-watering tie between Peter Wright and Adrian Lewis.
Friday and Saturday's winners will progress to Sunday's decisive final day which will see the afternoon session's quarter-finals followed by the semi-finals and final in the evening session.
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 limited number of tickets for the BetVictor Masters are still available from SeeTickets.
2019 BetVictor Masters
(1) Michael van Gerwen v (16) Jonny Clayton
(8) Mensur Suljovic v (9) Simon Whitlock
(5) Daryl Gurney v (12) Dave Chisnall
(4) Stephen Bunting v (13) Darren Webster
(2) Rob Cross v (15) Joe Cullen
(7) Gerwyn Price v (10) James Wade
(6) Michael Smith v (11) Ian White
(3) Peter Wright v (14) Adrian Lewis
Schedule of Play
Friday February 1 (1900 GMT)
4x First Round
Daryl Gurney v Dave Chisnall
Mensur Suljovic v Simon Whitlock
Stephen Bunting v Darren Webster
Michael van Gerwen v 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)
Evening Session (1900 GMT)
First Round - Best of 19 legs
Quarter-Finals - Best of 19 legs
Semi-Finals - Best of 21 legs
Final - Best of 21 legs
First Round Losers £5,000