THE Las Vegas Desert Classic VI begins at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on Monday, with Phil Taylor looking to claim a fourth title in the event. The tournament will see over 200 players from around the world head to Las Vegas to compete for over £125,000 in prize money.

The Desert Classic has been won three times by Taylor since its inception in 2002, with Peter Manley (2003) and current champion John Part the other winners. The top 12 PDC players and four North Americans are joined in the First Round draw by 16 qualifiers – who come through the events staged on Monday and Tuesday and open to all players.

A total of 195 players will be battling for the 16 places, including 2002 runner-up Ronnie Baxter, top American Ray Carver and star Dutch trio Michael van Gerwen, Jelle Klaasen and Vincent van der Voort – the finalist in the Blue Square UK Open earlier in June. Part battled through last year’s Qualifiers before going on to take the title with a 6-3 defeat of Raymond van Barneveld, and picked up victory in a recent Players Championship tournament at Hayling Island.

“Since the PDC US Open in May, I’ve been playing very solid matches and winning most of them so I feel pretty good,” said Part. “In a way, Hayling Island was my qualifying round for the Desert Classic and I can rest now – I’m ready.”

Van Barneveld enters the tournament having picked up a second successive UK Open title at Bolton recently. He overcame part 11-10 in that event, as well as seeing off Taylor 11-4 in the Englishman’s heaviest defeat for nearly three years.

“I’m not too worried about the defeat,” said Taylor, who had hit a nine-darter earlier in the UK Open finals. “It’s a massive rivalry with Raymond at the moment, one of the biggest in sport I think, and when I play him I’m buzzing. “He’s a good player, he has a lot of bottle and is brilliant. I played him in Las Vegas too last year and it went all the way to the last leg.

“I’m not beating myself up if I lose though. I’ve had 20 years of being very dedicated but it’s more enjoyable than ever now. “You’ve got to do the work if you want to be the best, but it’s not easy. “The Desert Classic is a great tournament and Vegas is a great place to be. I always have a good time and it’s my target to win it.”

The event often sees lower-ranked players come through from the Qualifiers to make a name for themselves – with Fleetwood’s Wes Newton reaching the semi-finals of the past two years. “I’ve still got to qualify in Las Vegas but it’s funny how some players do really well at certain tournaments,” said Newton, the world number 21.

“Maybe once you have a good run you’re relaxed and it gives you belief, and I love it in Vegas. “It’s an amazing place and if you get beaten then you can relax and treat it as a holiday, but hopefully I can delay that as long as possible!” American hopes will focus largely on the pre-qualified trio of Darin Young, John Kuczynski and Gary Mawson, but Ray Carver will be joined by some big names in the qualifiers.

Larry Butler, the inaugural World Matchplay champion in 1994, will be looking to qualify, while Jim Widmayer – who overcome Colin Lloyd on his way to the last 16 at the PDC US Open in May – and Paul Lim. Gerry Convery has also pre-qualified for round one after a series of ranking tournaments in Canada, with Dan Olson and Rory Orvis leading the Canadian hopefuls in the Qualifiers.

Stacy Bromberg, the top female player in America who led Kevin Painter during the PDC US Open last month, will be the only lady in the field as she seeks to qualify on her home soil of Las Vegas.

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