World number ones in darts
World number ones in darts

World number ones in darts: Michael Smith joins illustrious list of 12 players to reach the top of the PDC rankings including Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price


Paul Nicholson looks back at the players who have reached the top of the world rankings since the PDC began in 1993 and how long they stayed there.

Michael Smith became the 12th different player to earn world number one status after he leapfrogged Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen by winning his maiden World Championship.

In his latest column, The Asset hails Bully Boy's achievements before taking a trip down memory lane to explain why it used to be such a hotly contested battle despite Phil Taylor’s dominance in the majors and what caused it all to change…


Bully Boy jumps to the top

Although Michael Smith has been well inside the top 10 for many years, he'd never previously been seriously in the hunt to become world number one until the latter stages of the recent World Championship following the early exit of Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price's shock quarter-final defeat at the hands of Gabriel Clemens.

Even then, Michael van Gerwen was still hot favourite to pick up his fourth world title and subsequently reach the summit of the Order of Merit for just the second time in his career. I say 'just' but his first reign lasted seven years!

Instead it was Bully Boy who achieved his lifelong dream in spectacular circumstances to jump to the very top - and he's now the first world number one never to have been world number two!

The rankings do often tell some funny stories, especially when you think some legends like Gary Anderson, Adrian Lewis and James Wade have never been to the top despite the amount of majors they've collected in their long, illustrious careers.

It shows what impact the top heavy nature of the world championship prize money can have but niether Anderson nor Lewis made it despite each winning back-to-back world titles, while Rob Cross is also another former world champion not to enjoy a reign at the top.

Smith has been winning titles in the PDC for 12 years now when you consider his first Pro Tour success came way back in February 2011 and although Peter Wright spent about 25 years trying to achieve this feat, this is still a wonderful story and the culmination of all the hard work and dedication he's put into darts from such a young age.

It's not a status you can achieve overnight; Michael van Gerwen took eight years to become world number one since his breakthrough at the World Masters in 2006 while Gerwyn Price spent seven years climbing the ranks after joining the PDC in 2014.

Anyone else who has genuine dreams of joining this elite group of 12 players may have to concede it won't be happening any time soon.


How long will he stay there?

Smith will have eyes on a lengthy stay at the top of the charts and we could be talking multiple years.

For a start, he doesn't have significant money to defend across the next 12 months because he didn't exactly have a momentous 2021. He won a couple of Pro Tour titles and his only decent runs in the majors came at the World Matchplay (quarter-finals) and the Grand Slam of Darts (semi-finals).

The potential for him to extend his lead at the top is there - especially if he can emulate or eclipse what he managed in 2022 where he picked up six ranking titles overall, including two majors.

By contrast, Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price have a lot more money to defend so it'll be hard for them to make gains on Smith.

MVG didn't win any majors in 2021 but he reached the European Championship final, the semi-finals of the UK Open and World Matchplay as well as the quarters of the Grand Slam and Players Championship Finals.

Wright won the World Matchplay and Players Championship Finals, reached the Grand Slam of Darts final and then ended the campaign by lifting the biggest trophy of the lot.

As for Price, who is now lagging over £500,000 behind Smith in fourth after failing to defend much of his world title cash from two years ago, he won the Grand Slam of Darts in 2021 and also reached the latter stages of four other majors including making the World Grand Prix final.

The story of 2021 wasn’t about Michael Smith - and he can use this to his advantage in 2023.

More than half of his current ranking money comes from what he's won in the past few months which means he won't have the pressure of defending that chunk until we get to the winter of 2024!

If Smith can take this confidence and run with it, he can really stretch his legs at the top of the rankings. If he can open up a sizeable buffer before the next World Championship, then he will believe he can be world number one for a good two years minimum.

Now that he's fulfilled the potential he knew he had, he can now go out and get what he wants. He'll be playing with a level of freedom that he's never experienced before.


Topsy-turvy 2022

It was nice to have a year when the world number one spot was actually a frequent talking point. We'd been so used to players holding onto it for so long that we'd forgotten what it was like when it was seemingly always able to change hands every month.

Since the Order of Merit changed from being a points system to one based on prize money in 2006 - which will obviously be even more rewarding to those who win the big prestigious majors - we’ve had long periods of dominance from Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen.

Even Gerwyn Price was able to keep it for 14 months after lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy in January 2021 but his failure to reach the UK Open semi-final in March 2022 allowed Peter Wright to finally get his just reward for the two world titles he'd achieved over the past few years.

It probably felt even sweeter when you consider how many legends haven’t managed to achieve the feat over the past 10 to 15 years such as Gary Anderson, Adrian Lewis and James Wade.

Very little separated them for the rest of 2022 and quite often in the commentary box we'd be saying things like "if Price wins this event he goes back to world number one" or "if Wright doesn't reach this stage of this event, he'll drop down to number two" and so on!

It didn't actually change hands as many times as it could have. Price's run to the World Matchplay final in July saw him reclaim his world number one status and while he then lost it again at the World Grand Prix in early October, he wrestled it back soon and stayed there for the World Championship, where he was number one seed.

Some may think the yoyo nature of the world number one spot devalued the honour slightly but that's not the case. Just go back to the International Darts Open last February when Price and Wright met in the final and the winner would be world number one! Price won and said he was delighted to keep it for another week whilst Wright claimed he'd get it the next week...and he did!


Record breakers

A lot of people might assume Phil Taylor has the record of the longest running single spell as world number one given his dominance from the very start of the PDC in 1993 but his longest run of 2033 days from June 8, 2008 to January 1, 2014 was eclipsed by Michael van Gerwen’s 2,559 days from January 1, 2014 to January 3, 2021.

Taylor does however hold the record for being world number one for the longest time overall with 3,351 days having held it on EIGHT separate occasions in the previous years.

Despite what the Power achieved, it’s hard to argue that MVG was the most dominant world number one due to the sheer number of majors and other ranking events he won during his seven-year reign, and nobody came close to threatening his position for the vast majority of it.

Most months as world number one in darts
Most months as world number one in darts

If you asked the casual darts fans how long Taylor topped the rankings for, they’d probably say about 20 years given how many World Championships and World Matchplay titles he won!

No disrespect to all the other players who managed to reach the summit between 1993 and 2008, but he was always considered the best player in the world and went into every major as odds-on favourite.

Unlike van Gerwen, he chose not to play in every event throughout his career. He focused predominantly on the majors, so if he’d possessed the same thirst for the smaller events then it’s scary to think how firm his grip on top spot would have been.

From 2008 when I joined the PDC until I started to struggle with my game in 2014, Phil was the only number one I knew. We all woke up in the morning and couldn’t see a conceivable world where he wouldn’t be world number one!

Players over the last eight years would have thought the same about MVG but I’m not sure we’ll have reigns quite like either legend ever again.


Early chart toppers

If you asked most dart fans who was the first PDC world number one, they probably wouldn’t know. It was Alan Warriner-Little from January 1993 all the way to November 1994 – almost two years!

He’s often described as the 2001 World Grand Prix champion but it’s perhaps even more remarkable that he reached the top of the rankings on FIVE different occasions between 1993 and 2002.

In 30 years only four players have managed to regain the world number one spot so for him to do it four times himself is quite staggering and needs to be lauded a lot more than it is.

So, he first lost his spot to Dennis Priestly, who won the first ever PDC World Championship although his one and only reign lasted just five months before Rod Harrington took over in April 1995.

Harrington was a ranking event machine during the mid 90s and used to win a lot of them, helping him remain at the top until August 1996 when Taylor first reached the summit – albeit for just one month as Warriner-Little emerged once again until August 1998.


Millennium men

At that point Harrington enjoyed another dominant uninterrupted spell all the way to July 2000 thanks largely to winning back-to-back World Matchplay crowns but it was again ended by Taylor, whose long-awaited second reign only lasted another solitary month.

Taylor’s personal life wasn’t as stable as it could have been during the late 90s and early 2000s and that undoubtedly affected his darts and participation – even though he was still winning the World Championship every year.

Peter Manley took top spot for his only reign – although it did last a year due to entering as many events as possible and performing consistently well.

He may not have been the best player in the world but he certainly walked around like he was world number one, as you can imagine! I’ve heard stories about him jumping queues at restaurants and bars because ‘the world number one is coming through’!

Warriner gets back on top by winning the World Grand Prix in 2001 – the same edition he set the double-start average record of 106 which still stands today – and during that seven-month run, he did share it with Taylor for a short time.

Phil returns to the top for seven months and is playing the best darts of his career. Everyone is expecting to keep hold of it for years now but up pops John Part to not only beat him in that epic World Championship final in 2003, but also to replace him at the top.

Part’s only reign is ended six months later by Taylor’s World Matchplay title and this time he’s able to hold onto it all the way until February 2005 when the Colin Lloyd era begins.

That had been the Power's first lengthy run which is remarkable when you think he'd already won 20 majors by this point, including eight world titles!

Lloydy had already won the World Grand Prix a few months earlier to close the gap but he solidified his 13-month reign by winning the World Matchplay that summer. Taylor would take it back for just a couple of months before Lloyd returned for another eight.

Raymond van Barneveld, who’d already won a UK Open on debut, continued to motor up the rankings when defeating Taylor in the 2007 World Championship final but the runners-up cheque was enough for Phil to get the consolation of number one.

Barney’s arrival suddenly put Taylor’s status as the ‘best player’ in a little bit of doubt and he’d soon get his time at the top the following year, but only for six months.

From June 2008, Taylor would truly exert his iron grip on the rankings until van Gerwen replaced him 2,033 days later in January 2014.


Notable absentees

It is crazy to think Adrian Lewis and Gary Anderson both won back-to-back world titles but still couldn’t reach the world number one spot.

That’s purely down to the ability of both Taylor and Van Gerwen to consistently win the other majors like the World Matchplay and the Grand Slam to fend off other players who picked up the biggest prize of all.

It really is a remarkable feat.

We'll look closely at the best players never to have reached the top in a future column.


World number one reigns: Month-by-month

1993

  • Jan WARRINER
  • Feb WARRINER
  • Mar WARRINER
  • Apr WARRINER
  • May WARRINER
  • Jun WARRINER
  • Jul WARRINER
  • Aug WARRINER
  • Sep WARRINER
  • Oct WARRINER
  • Nov WARRINER
  • Dec WARRINER

1994

  • Jan WARRINER
  • Feb WARRINER
  • Mar WARRINER
  • Apr WARRINER
  • May WARRINER
  • Jun WARRINER
  • Jul WARRINER
  • Aug WARRINER
  • Sep WARRINER
  • Oct WARRINER
  • Nov PRIESTLEY
  • Dec PRIESTLEY

1995

  • Jan PRIESTLEY
  • Feb PRIESTLEY
  • Mar PRIESTLEY
  • Apr HARRINGTON
  • May HARRINGTON
  • Jun HARRINGTON
  • Jul HARRINGTON
  • Aug HARRINGTON
  • Sep HARRINGTON
  • Oct HARRINGTON
  • Nov HARRINGTON
  • Dec HARRINGTON

1996

  • Jan HARRINGTON
  • Feb HARRINGTON
  • Mar HARRINGTON
  • Apr HARRINGTON
  • May HARRINGTON
  • Jun HARRINGTON
  • Jul HARRINGTON
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep WARRINER
  • Oct WARRINER
  • Nov WARRINER
  • Dec WARRINER

1997

  • Jan WARRINER
  • Feb WARRINER
  • Mar WARRINER
  • Apr WARRINER
  • May WARRINER
  • Jun WARRINER
  • Jul WARRINER
  • Aug WARRINER
  • Sep WARRINER
  • Oct WARRINER
  • Nov WARRINER
  • Dec WARRINER

1998

  • Jan WARRINER
  • Feb WARRINER
  • Mar WARRINER
  • Apr WARRINER
  • May WARRINER
  • Jun WARRINER
  • Jul WARRINER
  • Aug HARRINGTON
  • Sep HARRINGTON
  • Oct HARRINGTON
  • Nov HARRINGTON
  • Dec HARRINGTON

1999

  • Jan HARRINGTON
  • Feb HARRINGTON
  • Mar HARRINGTON
  • Apr HARRINGTON
  • May HARRINGTON
  • Jun HARRINGTON
  • Jul HARRINGTON
  • Aug HARRINGTON
  • Sep HARRINGTON
  • Oct HARRINGTON
  • Nov HARRINGTON
  • Dec HARRINGTON

2000

  • Jan HARRINGTON
  • Feb HARRINGTON
  • Mar HARRINGTON
  • Apr HARRINGTON
  • May HARRINGTON
  • Jun HARRINGTON
  • Jul HARRINGTON
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep MANLEY
  • Oct MANLEY
  • Nov MANLEY
  • Dec MANLEY

2001

  • Jan MANLEY
  • Feb MANLEY
  • Mar MANLEY
  • Apr MANLEY
  • May MANLEY
  • Jun MANLEY
  • Jul MANLEY
  • Aug MANLEY
  • Sep MANLEY
  • Oct WARRINER
  • Nov WARRINER
  • Dec WARRINER

2002

  • Jan TAYLOR & WARRINER (Joint)
  • Feb WARRINER
  • Mar WARRINER
  • Apr WARRINER
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2003

  • Jan PART
  • Feb PART
  • Mar PART
  • Apr PART
  • May PART
  • Jun PART
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2004

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2005

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb LLOYD
  • Mar LLOYD
  • Apr LLOYD
  • May LLOYD
  • Jun LLOYD
  • Jul LLOYD
  • Aug LLOYD
  • Sep LLOYD
  • Oct LLOYD
  • Nov LLOYD
  • Dec LLOYD

2006

  • Jan LLOYD
  • Feb LLOYD
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May LLOYD
  • Jun LLOYD
  • Jul LLOYD
  • Aug LLOYD
  • Sep LLOYD
  • Oct LLOYD
  • Nov LLOYD
  • Dec LLOYD

2007

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2008

  • Jan VAN BARNEVELD
  • Feb VAN BARNEVELD
  • Mar VAN BARNEVELD
  • Apr VAN BARNEVELD
  • May VAN BARNEVELD
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2009

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2010

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2011

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2012

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2013

  • Jan TAYLOR
  • Feb TAYLOR
  • Mar TAYLOR
  • Apr TAYLOR
  • May TAYLOR
  • Jun TAYLOR
  • Jul TAYLOR
  • Aug TAYLOR
  • Sep TAYLOR
  • Oct TAYLOR
  • Nov TAYLOR
  • Dec TAYLOR

2014

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2015

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2016

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2017

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2018

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2019

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2020

  • Jan MVG
  • Feb MVG
  • Mar MVG
  • Apr MVG
  • May MVG
  • Jun MVG
  • Jul MVG
  • Aug MVG
  • Sep MVG
  • Oct MVG
  • Nov MVG
  • Dec MVG

2021

  • Jan PRICE
  • Feb PRICE
  • Mar PRICE
  • Apr PRICE
  • May PRICE
  • Jun PRICE
  • Jul PRICE
  • Aug PRICE
  • Sep PRICE
  • Oct PRICE
  • Nov PRICE
  • Dec PRICE

2022

  • Jan PRICE
  • Feb PRICE
  • Mar WRIGHT
  • Apr WRIGHT
  • May WRIGHT
  • Jun WRIGHT
  • Jul PRICE
  • Aug PRICE
  • Sep PRICE
  • Oct WRIGHT
  • Nov PRICE
  • Dec PRICE

2023

  • Jan SMITH
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec

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