GARY ANDERSON, Michael van Gerwen and Phil Taylor will all meet preliminary round winners in the 2016 William Hill World Darts Championship, with the tournament’s draw throwing up a host of tasty ties for the sport’s biggest event.

The £1.5 million tournament will see 72 players doing battle at London’s Alexandra Palace from December 17-January 3, live on the Sky Sports Darts channel.

Reigning World Champion Gary Anderson will begin the defence of his title against either Andy Boulton, Monday’s PDPA Qualifier runner-up, or Denmark’s Per Laursen on the tournament’s opening night on Thursday December 17.

Anderson followed up his phenomenal 7-6 win over Phil Taylor in last year’s World Championship final by winning the Premier League title in May, and is looking forward to defending his title at Alexandra Palace.

“I’ve got wonderful memories of last year’s World Championship and I can’t wait to get back there,” said Anderson, who is 6/1 with William Hill to retain his title.

“It’s a hard game to prepare for because you don’t know until the night who you’re going to play, but Per Laursen’s been around for years and xx did really well to come through the PDPA Qualifier, so I know it’s going to be tough.”

World number one van Gerwen, the 2014 World Champion who has enjoyed an incredible 12 months since losing to Anderson in last year’s semi-finals, has drawn the winner of the preliminary round tie between Thailand’s Thanawat Gaweenuntawong and Germany’s Rene Eidams.

Van Gerwen has amazingly won four televised tournaments during an unbeaten November and is the 5/4 favourite to regain the World Championship title with sponsors William Hill.

However, the 26-year-old said: “It’s going to be a tricky game because I’ve not seen much of either player to be honest. They’ve done well to qualify so I know I can’t take them lightly and I’ll be focused.

“I’ve had a brilliant year and this last month has been amazing for me, but I’m already looking forward to the World Championship. I’m going to have a little break to rest and then I’ll be preparing for Ally Pally.

“I know people will be expecting a lot of me in the World Championship, but I’ve just got to prepare for one game at a time and that’s what I’ll do.”

16-time World Champion Phil Taylor also drew a preliminary round winner, and he will open his challenge against either Japan’s Keita Ono or Philippines qualifier Alex Tagarao.

Number four seed Peter Wright, the 2014 runner-up to van Gerwen, has draw former World Youth Champion Keegan Brown for their mouth-watering opener, while two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis opens up against Dutch debutant Jan Dekker.

Number six seed Robert Thornton, October’s World Grand Prix champion, has drawn Alexandra Palace debutant Alan Norris, the former Lakeside Championship finalist who has won a Players Championship since joining the PDC circuit in January.

World number seven James Wade will take on either South African debutant Warrick Scheffer or Greece’s John Michael, while number eight seed Michael Smith, the former World Youth Champion, takes on debutant Jeffrey De Zwaan, the 19-year-old from the Netherlands who has impressed in his first year on the circuit.

Stoke’s Ian White, the number nine seed, has drawn another young debutant, Belgium’s Dimitri Van den Bergh, 2010 finalist Simon Whitlock plays PDPA Qualifier winner Ricky Evans and number 11 seed Terry Jenkins takes on American number one Darin Young.

Belgium’s Kim Huybrechts, the 12th seed, has drawn Shropshire’s David Pallett, Dave Chisnall faces Austrian youngster Rowby-John Rodriguez and Mervyn King, the number 14 seed, plays either Russia’s Aleksandr Oreshkin or Singapore’s veteran star Paul Lim.

World number 15 Vincent van der Voort has drawn DPA Australian Grand Prix champion Loz Ryder, with number 16 seed Raymond van Barneveld – the 2007 champion – up against emerging Dutchman Dirk van Duijvenbode, while Stephen Bunting takes on Germany’s Jyhan Artut.

Northern Ireland’s Brendan Dolan faces Australian ace Kyle Anderson, Dutch thrower Jelle Klaasen meets Joe Cullen, Justin Pipe has drawn Christian Kist and in-form Austrian Mensur Suljovic plays Holland’s Jermaine Wattimena.

Two-time semi-finalist Mark Webster, who has returned to form in recent months, has drawn either China’s Qiang Sun or returning Irishman Mick McGowan, with number 23 seed Jamie Caven meeting either Austria’s Michael Rasztovits or New Zealand number one Rob Szabo.

An exciting clash of two young prospects sees Holland’s Benito van de Pas take on German teenager Max Hopp, who won the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship title on Sunday night.

Former Lakeside Champion Steve Beaton meets Oceanic Masters champion Koha Kokiri, Wes Newton meets Spain’s Cristo Reyes in the first round for the second successive year – after losing out in a sudden-death leg to the newcomer 12 months ago – and 2012 finalist Andy Hamilton plays Joe Murnan.

Number 28 seed Andrew Gilding plays Welsh ace Gerwyn Price, Dean Winstanley drew Belgium’s Ronny Huybrechts, 2004 runner-up Kevin Painter meets either Finland’s Kim Viljanen or Dutch debutant Sven Groen, Jamie Lewis faces Northern Ireland’s Daryl Gurney and John Henderson plays Darren Webster.

The tournament, which features an increased record prize fund of £1.5 million this year, will be held across 15 days at London’s Alexandra Palace, with 66,000 fans set to see the battle to claim the Sid Waddell Trophy.

The preliminary and first rounds will be held before the Christmas break, with the second and third rounds to be held between Christmas and New Year.

The quarter-finals are then played on New Year’s Day, with the semi-finals on January 2 and the decisive final on Sunday January 3 as the first sporting World Champion of 2016 is crowned.

William Hill World Darts Championship
Preliminary Round
Michael Rasztovits (Austria) v Rob Szabo (New Zealand)
Keita Ono (Japan) v Alex Tagarao (Philippines)
Warrick Scheffer (South Africa) v John Michael (Greece)
Qiang Sun (China) v Mick McGowan (Ireland)
Aleksandr Oreshkin (Russia) v Paul Lim (Singapore)
Kim Viljanen (Finland) v Sven Groen (Netherlands)
Andy Boulton (England) v Per Laursen (Denmark)
Thanawat Gaweenuntawong (Thailand) v Rene Eidams (Germany)

First Round Draw & Tournament Bracket
Michael van Gerwen (1, Netherlands) v Gaweenuntawong/Eidams
John Henderson (32, Scotland) v Darren Webster (England)
Raymond van Barneveld (16, Netherlands) v Dirk van Duijvenbode (Netherlands)
Stephen Bunting (17, England) v Jyhan Artut (Germany)
Michael Smith (8, England) v Jeffrey De Zwaan (Netherlands)
Steve Beaton (25, England) v Koha Kokiri (New Zealand)
Ian White (9, England) v Dimitri Van den Bergh (Belgium)
Benito van de Pas (24, Netherlands) v Max Hopp (Germany)
Adrian Lewis (5, England) v Jan Dekker (Netherlands)
Andrew Gilding (28, England) v Gerwyn Price (Wales)
Kim Huybrechts (12, Belgium) v David Pallett (England)
Mensur Suljovic (21, Austria) v Jermaine Wattimena (Netherlands)
Peter Wright (4, Scotland) v Keegan Brown (England)
Dean Winstanley (29, England) v Ronny Huybrechts (Belgium)
Dave Chisnall (13, England) v Rowby-John Rodriguez (Austria)
Justin Pipe (20, England) v Christian Kist (Netherlands)
Gary Anderson (2, Scotland) v Boulton/Laursen
Jamie Lewis (31, Wales) v Daryl Gurney (Northern Ireland)
Vincent van der Voort (15, Netherlands) v Loz Ryder (Australia)
Brendan Dolan (18, Northern Ireland) v Kyle Anderson (Australia)
James Wade (7, England) v Scheffer/Michael
Wes Newton (26, England) v Cristo Reyes (Spain)
Simon Whitlock (10, Australia) v Ricky Evans (England)
Jamie Caven (23, England) v Rasztovits/Szabo
Robert Thornton (6, Scotland) v Alan Norris (England)
Andy Hamilton (27, England) v Joe Murnan (England)
Terry Jenkins (11, England) v Darin Young (USA)
Mark Webster (22, Wales) v Sun/McGowan
Phil Taylor (3, England) v Ono/Taragao
Kevin Painter (30, England) v Viljanen/Groen
Mervyn King (14, England) v Oreshkin/Lim
Jelle Klaasen (19, Netherlands) v Joe Cullen (England)