There have been 14 different world number ones down the years but there’s still several former world champions and multiple-major winners that couldn’t quite top the rankings in their illustrious careers.
When I tried to compile my best five players never to be world number one, the top four were ridiculously easy. If you don’t already know much about the history of the PDC rankings, you’ll be extremely shocked that two of this quartet haven’t ever reached the summit! They will both be in many darts fans lists of ‘top 10 players ever’.
As for the fifth spot, it’s like a royal rumble of about 16 fighting for that honour and I spent about two hours talking with PDPA expert Andy Scott, thinking about who it could be, so I’ll be interested to hear your views on social media about who would take it.
The best player never to be world number one in the PDC has to be Gary Anderson for everything he’s achieved in the game. Including back-to-back world titles in the last 10 years.
What we’ve got used to in the modern era is that when someone becomes world champion they become world number one because of the huge sum of ranking money they earn in one go – currently £500,000. It happened with Michael van Gerwen when he first took it from Phil Taylor and then also more recently with Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright and Michael Smith.
It’s such a top heavy prize compared to everything else that if you are in a world final after a good couple of years, you’ll probably go to the top.
If you scale it back to 2015 and 2016 the first prize (£250k and £300k) wasn’t quite as much, so Anderson won a total of £550,000 for both of those crowns combined.
Even so, the fact that he piled that huge amount onto his ranking in 368 days just goes to show how dominant Michael van Gerwen was away from Alexandra Palace in that period.
MVG’s unbelievable seven-year stretch at the top of the rankings denied a lot of great players becoming world number one and I don’t think he’s been praised enough for that. Especially because he ‘only’ won three world titles in that time. It’s mind-boggling the more you look into it.
Anderson has won many other majors in his career and although three of those – the Premier League (x2) and the Champions League – weren’t ranked it’s still more evidence to prove what a legendary player he’s been and why nobody would have begrudged him being a world number one at some point.
Most people agree he won’t want to retire until he wins a Grand Slam of Darts – but he’d also love to be world number one even though it’s now more unlikely. In this day and age he must simply win a third world title to stand a chance.
Adrian Lewis not being a world number one also makes my head spin with confusion – albeit not as much as it does with Gary Anderson.
Not only did he also win back-to-back world titles in 2011 and 2012 but he was also runner-up to Anderson in his third Ally Pally final in 2016.
The prize money for winning the World Championship back then was £200,000 but despite that still being a lot more than other tournaments, he couldn’t leapfrog Phil Taylor for the same reason Anderson couldn’t surpass MVG.
Phil was so dominant in the other majors around then on a regular basis – such as in the World Matchplay – that he kept his nose in front.
What’s interesting about this period of time is that Taylor had stopped playing in every Players Championship or European event; he was picking and choosing his tournaments to stay fresh and prioritised the big majors, which he regularly won – although the Grand Slam wasn’t ranked back then.
The door was therefore ajar for Lewis to capitalise on this in his back-to-back world title era but he didn’t do it.
The reason I’m putting Adrian behind Gary in this ranking is that he didn’t win as many major tournaments throughout his career or as many ranked titles away from the TV cameras. In fact, his trophy haul is less than half overall. He’s got plenty of years left to change this, however.
Being a four-time major champion is still incredible and at times he did possess the aura of being the best player in the world, most notably when he hit a nine-darter in a World Championship final.
It’ll grate on him that he didn’t win a World Matchplay or a Grand Slam of Darts crown in the ‘10s especially between his really hot spell between 2011 and 2014 when the game looked so easy for him.
There was a very famous interview he did with Sky after the semi-final with James Wade in the 2012 edition when he said: “I’m the best in the world” and at that point, most of us agreed. The rankings never reflected it and despite being number two for a while, he never really scared Taylor’s position.
James Wade may not have become a world champion yet but if you think how long he’s been winning his other 11 major titles, he clearly deserves a place in this line up.
Sure, some of those weren’t ranked like the Premier League, Masters and World Series Finals but they highlight what a quality player he’s been for well over a decade and he’s been stopped by multiple players in his quest to reach top spot.
He’s probably one of the biggest dwellers of the number two spot in the history of the Order of Merit era. He couldn’t get to the top when he first started winning his majors in 2007 – and going deep in many others – because Taylor lifted most of the world titles.
He won the World Matchplay and World Grand Prix in the same year but it wasn’t enough. Then Raymond van Barneveld comes along and eventually reaches top spot for six months in January 2008 after reaching the quarter-finals a year after winning the world title on debut.
In that 2008 edition, the flu swept through field. Everyone had it at some point but Wadey suffered pretty badly with it. How he reached the quarter-finals I’ll never know and eventually he bowed out 5-4 to eventual champion John Part.
James was playing incredible darts at that time but sickness really cost him against John. I have little doubt in my mind that if he’d been healthy, he’d have won that tournament and then gone on to become world number one.
So from that perspective, his legacy is currently coming up a bit short just because he had the flu!
As we’ve already established with the weight of the World Championship prize money, he will need to win at Ally Pally if he’s ever going to reach the top. He won £100,000 for lifting his third UK Open in 2021 but that only got him to number four.
In this era of needing to win a world title to become world number one – Rob Cross can feel very unfortunate not to have reached top spot.
He got to number two after banking £400,000 for lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy in 2018 because he only had one year of ranking money behind him.
Rob’s 2018 season was much slower and he didn’t back up his world title enough to eclipse Michael van Gerwen, who was still so dominant in the other majors.
Nevertheless, you have to include him in this list because in the following year he won the World Matchplay and the first of his two European Championship crowns, while throughout the rest of his relatively short career to date he’s reached six other major finals and won nine other titles.
Four ranked majors in such a short space of time, including the biggest of the lot, should really have been enough but top spot remains on his bucket list.
I was mulling over 16 names who could challenge for this last spot for many different reasons.
In no particular order they are Terry Jenkins , John Lowe, Bob Anderson, Wayne Mardle, Rob Thornton, Roland Scholten, Peter Evison, Mike Gregory, Shayne Burgess, Ronnie Baxter, Simon Whitlock, Mervyn King, Dave Chisnall, Ian White, Eric Bristow and Jonny Clayton.
The last of those names enjoyed a hot 2021 by winning four televised titles and had they all been ranked, then he’d have been close!
Unfortunately for The Ferret, only the World Grand Prix fits into the ranked category while the Masters, Premier League and World Series of Darts Finals didn’t earn him anything on the Order of Merit.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t ‘deserve’ to be considered as a world number one contender, but that’s why he never got close to top spot.
If you go back much further in time there were players like Roland Scholten who got close in the old points system pre-2007 thanks to winning the UK Open in 2004, reaching the World Grand Prix final in 2001 and the latter stages of many other majors until around 2007.
At the start of the PDC ranking era in 1993, there were some very big names who never reached the summit including John Lowe and Bob Anderson while Mike Gregory won the first PDC event and didn’t get there either because he went back to the BDO so quickly.
John was the 1993 world champion at the Lakeside so it would be unfair to say he was well past his best to challenge for top spot in the PDC although he was unable to win any more majors after the split.
Robert Thornton managed to win a couple of majors in his stellar career – the 2012 UK Open and 2015 World Grand Prix – and eight Pro Tour titles but the best he ever achieved was fourth.
That was mainly down to his failure to go deep at either the World Championship or World Matchplay on a consistent basis although ironically he’s now won the senior version of both tournaments! If he’d managed to supplement the rest of his successes with a couple of big lump sums then he’d have got close.
Ronnie Baxter, Mervyn King and Dave Chisnall haven’t triumphed in majors but they had many deep runs on TV stages and won plenty of tournaments away from the TV cameras.
Chizzy was in the world’s top 10 for most of the time between 2012 and 2020 and had he won any of his four ranked majors then he’d have got a lot closer to top spot.
The same can certainly be said of Terry Jenkins, who reached nine major finals and won three Players Championship events during his crowd-pleasing career.
Some time between 2010 and 2012, someone decided it would be funny to see who would be world number one if the PDC were still using the old points system that wasn’t based on prize money.
In that era pre-2007 you could get to top spot without having to win that many majors. It was about competing in - and obviously winning - ranked tournaments on regular basis regardless if they were on TV or not.
Phil Taylor was well clear at the top of the Order of Merit but if it had been a two-year points system, Wes Newton would have been world number one!
That’s because in that particular period of time he was battering the circuit, playing in virtually every tournament, going deep in many of them and winning six ranked titles. None of which were majors but he did reach the 2011 UK Open and 2012 European Championship finals.
He was effectively doing what Colin Lloyd and Peter Manley were doing in the early 2000s – going to every tournament and going deep. Obviously Colin won a couple of majors, Peter just The Desert Classic but he was also a former world number one.
So in summary, the prize money reflects the world number one – but does it fairly judge who the best player is at any given time? I leave that to you to discuss.