PDC Statistical Analyst Christopher Kempf explores which Tour Card Holders have the most and least ranking money at stake in 2022...
TV title defences are rare in the PDC - once you set Michael van Gerwen and Phil Taylor to one side, of course.
But rarer still is winning a TV ranking title two years on - an achievement that preserves a substantial portion of player's ranking position for a total of four years uninterrupted.
Until a few months ago, no player other than those two aforementioned titans had ever done this in PDC events.
That changed when Rob Cross won the 2021 European Championship, following on from his 2019 title and preventing him from a catastrophic fall out of the top 16.
Just three months later, Peter Wright repeated the feat, but on a much grander scale - by the end of 2023, he will have had the enormous £500,000 World Championship winner's prize on his Order of Merit ledger for four consecutive calendar years, essentially securing him in his perch as either the world number one or two for that entire period.
When Callan Rydz came within one set of defeating Wright in the quarter-finals at Ally Pally, he nearly switched the PDC onto a parallel track in which Wright, would have seen £450,000 evaporate from his Order of Merit rank, just as happened to Van Gerwen last year when failing to complete a 'ranking defence' of his 2019 world title.
Now, all eyes are on the players who will be approaching similar crossroads in 2022, striving to maintain the position among the darts elite that they have enjoyed for the past two years.
11 players in the top 64 will be defending more than two-thirds of their prize money in 2022.
One of them is Gerwyn Price, who may need to complete a similar 'ranking defence' of his World Championship title one year from now to remain as world number one in 2023.
But even before that, his current position as world number one is very much in jeopardy. Come March, he will need to defend £40,000 earned at the 2020 UK Open; and since his Order of Merit lead over Wright is barely more than £15,000 at the moment, Wright could finally ascend to the top position even with a poor result in Minehead.
But even if Price did not play any events for the next 12 months, he would still retain several hundred thousand pounds in ranking earnings.
The same is not true of Jeffrey de Zwaan, who will have an uphill battle simply to retain his Tour Card.
The former World Matchplay semi-finalist earned so little on the ProTour in 2021 that he must defend 90.3% of his earnings over the next 12 months - an extremely difficult task while scraping together three-figure sums from last-64 finishes in Players Championship events.
Heralded as one of the outstanding young talents in the sport, De Zwaan has seen his averages drop below the ProTour overall average in the past two years, and unless he can raise them substantially, he will be forced to enter next year's Q School.
Veterans Simon Whitlock and Glen Durrant will also find themselves on the brink in 2022.
Durrant, having climbed to the highest echelons of darts in mid-2020, is now working to claw his way out of a horrendous slump in form, but his descent in the rankings to 31st in the world means that he will have to defend £131,000 not through guaranteed TV appearances, but the hard way - contesting dozens of ProTour events.
Whitlock, on the other hand, has been a top 16 player almost since the moment he switched from contesting BDO events, but his run of more than a decade at the top seems to be coming to an end, as he will be defending nearly £100,000 - half of his total Order of Merit income - in just three TV events.
He may need to do so without the aid of an appearance in Blackpool this July, following on from his first-ever absence from that tournament in 2021.
At the other end of the spectrum, happy days lie ahead for two Development Tour alumni who made deep runs in the World Championship, Callan Rydz and Luke Humphries, who are both defending less than 25% of their ranking money in 2022 after breakthrough 2021 campaigns.
Humphries in particular appears poised to break into the top 16 this year, becoming one of the youngest players to do so - but Rydz, following on from a quarter-final appearance made possible by authoritative whitewashes of Brendan Dolan and Nathan Aspinall, is the player whose performances and fortunes are most rapidly improving, irrespective of money to defend.
Finally, no player has been so suddenly rejuvenated by a win (and 'ranking defence') as Cross, who in October appeared to be on the brink of a terminal collapse in form and ranking income, only to reclaim the European crown and suddenly start averaging 100+ across multiple ProTour events once again.
Suddenly, the coast is clear for him in 2022; with less than £100,000 to defend, just one ranking TV title would put him in the black for the year, and serve as a foundation for climbing his way up the top ten once more.
But in order to do that, he will need to jump ahead of the other men of the hour, Michael Smith (WC finalist) and Jonny Clayton (the man with the highest tournament average over the past month).
Both these two men are only defending about a third of their ranking money over the next year - so Cross, who made history as the first non-Taylor or MvG TV title 'ranking defender', will have to work hard not only to keep up with these two red-hot players, but also to ensure that none of the other players attempting a 'ranking defence' of their own are able to follow in his path.