So who is the best darts player in history never to have won a big televised PDC major? Paul Nicholson reveals the five he thinks are vying for that 'honour'.
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There have been many sporting legends down the years, from darts and snooker to tennis and golf, who won millions of admirers across the world for their incredible abilities and style, yet would somehow always fall just short in the quest for the biggest prizes.
The tag "best player to have never won *insert type of award here*" follows certain athletes around throughout their careers and if ever they are able to triumphantly shake it off, another nearly man will carry the mantle that often breaks many a would-be champion.
In this week's column, former major winner and commentator Paul Nicholson picks five of the greatest darts players never to have bagged one of the PDC's biggest crowns, although four of them will actively be trying to get themselves off this list!
Best players never to have (yet) won a major
Firstly, any player categorised as one of the best never to have won a major must regard it as a huge compliment – in any sport.
Obviously in tennis and golf there are just four each year to aim at whereas in the PDC we have the World Championship, the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix, Premier League, UK Open, Grand Slam of Darts, Masters, European Championship and the Players Championship Finals.
There are clearly more opportunities for dart players to grab that brass ring, especially with the length of their careers compared to other sports, but you also have to remember that in the eras of Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen, it’s hardly been a free for all.
It’s therefore been tough to select just five players past and present for this list, from the veterans who have shown incredible consistency over a number of years to the younger stars who are surely destined to win one in the future.
So where ‘better’ to start, even if it’s the most agonising, than with…
- 2x World Matchplay runner-up (2009: Taylor 18-4, 2007: Wade 18-7)
- 2x World Grand Prix runner-up (2007: Wade 6-3, 2006: Taylor 7-4)
- Premier League runner-up (2007: Taylor 16-6)
- Grand Slam of Darts runner-up (2008: Taylor 18-9)
- UK Open runner-up (2014: Lewis 11-1)
- European Championship runner-up (2014: MVG 11-4)
- Las Vegas Desert Classic runner-up (2007: Barney 13-6)
- 11 non-televised PDC titles
Terry Jenkins was able to play top level darts for many years despite it often being said that the game was ‘just’ a hobby. So as a hobby player, he’s probably the best ever!
From around 2006 to 2012 there weren’t too many better players than him in the world and he was still able to reach two more major finals after his peak years in 2014.
James Wade denied him on two occasions in finals, including the 2007 World Matchplay when he took advantage of Jenkins memorably knocking out Phil Taylor in the semi-finals.
In fact, if you look through Wade’s CV, a lot of of his majors were won after the Power was taken out by someone else earlier in the tournament.
He was brilliant at sweeping up and that’s why many players called him the "Janitor" although I’m not sure he knows that! It is an affectionate nickname, however, because it was meant as a compliment. When Taylor lost everyone said "Wade is going to win now" and he no doubt thought the same. Wade was unquestionably the world number two at the time and you have to applaud him for the ruthless way in which he hosed up.
In Terry's case, it obviously took a lot out of him both mentally and physically after coming through a titanic battle against the greatest player ever. When I beat Taylor in the second semi-final of the Players Championship Finals, I only had 20 minutes before I was back up there to face Mervyn King.
I didn’t have time to think about the magnitude of what I’d just done and could maintain my intensity level, so that probably helped me win my major title. Whereas with Terry, he had a whole day to think about it and didn’t have that same spark against Wade in the final.
However, that wasn’t the case for all his near misses. In the 2014 UK Open he edged out Michael van Gerwen 10-8 in the semi-finals but when he returned to the stage about an hour later, he was blown away 11-1 by an incredible Adrian Lewis, who averaged 109!
Terry was such a good player. He could beat the best players with sheer brilliance and also had a rare deadly style which allowed him to sneak darts over the top and underneath – very much like Martin Adams. He was also a workhorse who travelled the world over to compete and that’s why he had so many ranking points and earned so much money away from his other ventures.
For such a popular player like Terry was, the crowd would have dearly loved him to win any of the finals he reached so it remains galling that he lost the lot to a plethora of great players including Taylor, Wade, Raymond van Barneveld, Adrian Lewis and most recently van Gerwen.
He sadly never really got going in any of them and ran out of steam, but it must not detract from what a superb player he was.
Terry was certainly a People’s Champion and few nine-dart finishes have been celebrated more than his at the 2014 World Championship.
However, the cruelly funny punchline to that story was not only did he lose the match to Per Laursen but apparently, he was called by someone in his hotel room and told that Kyle Anderson had also hit a perfect leg, which cut his £20,000 bonus in half.
He didn’t believe them, thinking it was a wind-up, until he got home and found out it was true. So the time in Terry’s career when he finally did get the big bonus – even that is denied by someone else’s brilliance!
Maybe he stepped on too many black cats when he was doing his antiques dealing but there was always a sense that he had a curse over him.
I really wanted him to play on for another couple of years and give Q School another crack but I think he just looked in the mirror at some point and realised he’d given it his best shot for many years, but it just wasn’t to be.
- Masters runner-up (2014: Wade 11-10)
- World Grand Prix runner-up (2012: MVG 6-4)
- Players Championship Finals runner-up (2010: Nicholson 13-11)
- Premier League runner-up (2009: Wade 13-8)
- Championship League runner-up (2008: Taylor 7-5)
- 8 non-televised PDC titles
- 2004 BDO World Masters winner (Tony O'Shea, 7-6)
- 2005 BDO Zuiderduin Masters winner (Martin Adams, 5-4)
Whether Mervyn King reads this or not, he will refute this tag because of the major success he enjoyed in the BDO. But I’ve included him because this feature is all about the PDC.
He’s been on the cusp of glory five times, including the 2010 Players Championship when I beat him 13-11 in such a close match at the end of a very long day.
I won because Mervyn had just one bad leg when I was 12-11 up. As simple as that. If he’d had one solid leg and taken it to a decider, then he’d probably have won.
We may have only played three matches in the day but we were in the arena from around 9am in the morning until midnight! You can see in the 24th leg how tired Mervyn was so you can forgive him for one bad leg – it just happened at the most agonising of times. I had no doubts at the time that he’d go on and become a major champion one day.
When we talk about natural talent, being a workhorse and longevity, then Mervyn has to be right near the top of the list.
He’s been going strong since the mid-1990s and had a great career in the BDO, where he lost two World Championship finals, before he even began his long journey in the PDC.
Although the 2014 Masters against Wade went to a deciding leg, his best chance to win one of the most high-profile majors was the 2012 World Grand Prix.
Obviously there were things said about the crowd when they turned on him a little bit in that final and started to support Michael van Gerwen, but until that point he had been the best player in the tournament.
It was on a plate for him but it just seemed to go awry for him in those closing stages. It’s such a shame that he’s never been able to win that event considering how well he plays double-start darts.
I would like to say it remains his best chance to break his duck but at this late stage of his career I think his best opportunity lies with the shorter majors played over a long weekend such as the UK Open, European Championship and Players Championship Finals. He still has the ability it’s just a question of whether he can stay the course with the youngsters.
Another near miss came in the 2009 Premier League when he did the hard work of beating Phil Taylor in the semi-finals, only to lose to the ‘janitor’ James Wade later in the night.
Mervyn did the dirty work for James, who then cleans up for yet another major title. Do you see an additional theme developing here in this list?!
James was super fit and skinny back then due to the amount of exercise he put in and was probably best prepared for the longer night than Mervyn at the time.
The semi-final would have knocked some of the stuffing out of Merv because you’ve got to be so mentally focused for every single dart.
If he’d managed to win one of the two BDO world finals he reached – against Tony David in 2002 and Andy Fordham in 2004 – it could have helped him in the big PDC finals.
We have seen ripple effects occur when players in all sports bag a major early in their careers and I do firmly think the course of history would have been different had he beaten David as the favourite in 2002.
- Players Championship Finals semi-final 2019
- 8 x major quarter-finalist
- Three European Tour titles
- Nine Players Championship titles
Ian White may not have reached a major final yet – which is flummoxing enough - but he’s won so many non-televised titles, particularly over the past few years, that he has to be included in this list.
On the big stage he’s made eight quarter-finals since 2013 so I know it meant a big deal to him when he got as far as the last four in last year’s Players Championship Finals, where he lost to Michael van Gerwen 11-8 in a close match in which he averaged well over 100.
It reminded me of when Gerwyn Price pulled out a 160 checkout from nowhere in a nail-biting UK Open quarter-final a few years ago, which must have felt like a stake in the heart at a time where he looked ready to break his duck.
We all want him to get that extra distance to see what he’s made of in a major televised final.
I’ve seen many games that Ian has played on the Pro Tour and the European Tour against the best players in the world and have no doubt he has great mental strength.
However, he’s just one of those players who seems to have a huge barrier up when it really matters. It’s like he’s climbing a rope to get over a wall on an assault course but the wall just keeps getting higher.
That won’t stop him from trying, and at the age of nearly 50, he’s the player many of us are hoping can finally knock that wall down if he doesn’t climb over it!
Last year he won two European Tour events, which are obviously played on a stage in front of thousands of fans, by beating Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright in deciding legs.
I was commentating for his final against MVG in the Dutch Darts Masters and he also had to overcome a crazy atmosphere and I really don’t know how he did it.
If he can do that in MVG’s backyard, why can’t he do it in England in front of people who want him to win? It’s a bit of a mystery.
We all have a lot of positivity in our veins and I’d love to see everyone who ends up on this list – apart from Terry Jenkins obviously – get themselves off it as soon as possible but it doesn’t happen to everyone.
White is nearly 50 and the clock is ticking. There may only be five more years for him to do it and that adds to the pressure more than someone a lot earlier in their careers.
- World Championship runner-up (2019: MVG 7-3)
- World Matchplay runner-up (2019: Cross 18-13)
- Premier League runner-up (2018: MVG 11-4)
- Masters runner-up (2020: Wright 11-10)
- World Series of Darts Finals runner-up (2018: Wade 11-10)
- 11 PDC titles, including televised Shanghai Darts Masters and World Youth Championship
We’ve been talking about Michael Smith as a potential major winner for the last nine years after he won his first PDC title way back in February 2011.
I remember the conversation I had with Michael in March of that same year after I’d just won a tournament. He said: “I won a UK Open qualifier last month and you’ve just won a Players Championship. Can we swap?!”
His money only went on the UK Open Qualification Order of Merit and mine went on a different one which was a bit more valuable at the time, so I replied, “absolutely not!”
It seemed inevitable at that early age that he’d go on and lift a big major and recently he’s reached many finals, including the World Championship, Premier League and World Matchplay.
Michael had been brilliant in all three of those campaigns but his poor starts when it really mattered cost him a chance to really challenge for those trophies.
I think the one which may hurt him most was this year’s Masters when he missed match darts and lost a deciding leg to Peter Wright.
He’d shown so much mental fortitude until that point to earn himself championship darts but I believe the negative emotion after he missed gave Wright the impetus to deny him.
He has an abundance of ability and talent so if he was able to improve 5% in his mental game then I have no doubts he’ll go on and win multiple majors in his career.
I’d never accuse Smith of being too much of a thinker during his visits but when you’re on the stage, the throwing is only 20% of what you do. The rest is what you’re not doing at the back of stage and that’s where I think he shows too much negativity during the times he’s not playing as well.
I’m not sure I’d count the World Series of Darts Finals as a true major but it was also agonising for him to lose the 2018 edition in a deciding leg to James Wade, missing match darts in the process.
It continues the theme running through this feature about James being the ‘janitor’ who knows how to clean up when the big names fall – in this case MVG - and I think he almost relishes facing these major-less players in finals because he has the mental strength.
As for Smith, his wonderful talent is enough to beat anyone in the world, any day of the week so that’s why he has to go on this list - but hopefully he can get himself off it soon.
- 2x World Grand Prix runner-up (2013: Taylor 6-0, 2019: MVG 5-2)
- Grand Slam of Darts runner-up (2014: Taylor 16-13)
- Masters runner-up (2016: MVG 11-6)
- Players Championship Finals runner-up (2016: MVG 11-3)
- BDO World Championship runner-up (2010: Adams 7-5)
- 15 non-televised PDC titles
I’ve talked a lot about James Wade in this column due to his ability to sweep up majors once Phil Taylor and/or Michael van Gerwen have been knocked out. But in the case of Dave Chisnall, whenever he’s reached a final one of those two greats are waiting for him!
He met both in his two World Grand Prix finals in 2013 and 2019, Taylor in the 2014 Grand Slam while he lost out to MVG in the 2016 Masters and Players Championship Finals of the same year.
Even in the two televised World Series events he reached the finals of – which wouldn’t count as majors anyway – he lost to van Gerwen.
Whereas some players have enjoyed the luck of the draw, Chizzy just seems to run into a solid oak door every time he produces his best runs.
From a talent and average perspective, Dave has shown as much as Taylor and van Gerwen throughout his career and he can out 180 anyone in the world – so I find it flabbergasting that he’s not won a major yet.
Maybe it’s just that extra 0.5% of belief he needs to finally break that door down.
I still think there’s something huge waiting for him in his career – he’s way too good not to win a trophy that would make his mantlepiece bowed.
I’ve practiced with him many times down the years and not only is he a lovely guy but he’s mind-spinningly good at darts. He’s probably the best player I’ve seen close up who hasn’t won a world title, let alone a major.
He’s done things in front of me that I can’t comprehend – such as the time he hit about eight 180s in a row. He has a sighter on that treble 20 like nobody else in the world.
It’s not as if Chizzy is bad on doubles either – the fundamental problem has been a lack of luck as far as the draw is concerned.
Even during his BDO career, the one World Championship final he contested in 2010 was against Martin Adams, so he didn’t have an easy path there either!
Had that happened in 2007, Chizzy may have won but by 2010, Wolfie had already overcome his own mental block of getting his first - and then a second - world title.
If Dave was to eventually win a big title then I think every player would want to give him a huge round of applause. There’s not one person involved in this game that dislikes him – but maybe that’s one of the problems – not having that bit of nastiness to get over that line.
Success for Dave would be the most celebrated of all the players yet to win a major and there really wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house! I’d love to shed tears for him one day, especially if its something really huge like the world title.
I wouldn’t like to say if he’d rather win a major like James Wade has or, like Peter Wright admitted, do it by beating van Gerwen.
Either way, because everyone is getting better and hungrier, I don’t think any final could possibly be ‘easy’. He’s just got to keep knocking on the door and eventually it’ll open.
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