The depth of quality within the PDC is as strong as ever, however, an elite group of players still monopolise the major tournaments. The last 15 major ranking events have been shared between four players; Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis. It must be noted that James Wade won the Unibet Masters last November, whilst Raymond van Barneveld has won two non-ranked events; the Grand Slam of Darts and the Premier League, in the last 2 ½ years. However, the last time that one of the six players mentioned didn’t win a major title was over 2 ½ years ago; when Simon Whitlock beat Wes Newton in the European Championships. With so many emerging players challenging for the top honours, I assess 5 potential new major winners.
There is absolutely no question that Michael Smith possesses incredible ability. Like Michael van Gerwen, I believe Smith has gained a great deal of confidence from being successful on the youth tour; it has allowed him to forge a winning mentality that he has transferred to the senior tour. He has certainly been more prolific on the floor than on the television, winning 4 senior ranking titles, including a recent UK Open qualifier, where he beat Adrian Lewis 6-5 in a thrilling final. Smith’s best achievement to date is winning the 2014 European Darts Trophy, where he beat Michal van Gerwen 6-5 in the final, thanks to finishes of 158 & 100.
Despite this, one of the issues with Smith is his temperament. In his Grand Slam quarter-final against Phil Taylor last November, he was becoming visibly frustrated and he completely disintegrated, losing 13 successive legs as Taylor closed out a comprehensive 16-3 victory. However, he showed great resilience at the World Championships just months later, coming from behind to beat the tenacious duo Mensur Suljovic and Brendan Dolan. He almost produced an improbable comeback from 3-0 down against Stephen Bunting in the last 16, producing some stunning combination finishes, including 124, 164 and 170 checkouts.
He definitely has the scoring power to beat anybody; he is a prolific maximum hitter and his switching to the T19 is excellent. He is also a deadly combination finisher, as demonstrated at the worlds. He can appear suspect with thee darts at a double, but he is improving that element of his game.
‘Bully Bully’ is mentored by Tommy Gilmour and current World-Champion Gary Anderson, and he is continuing to mature as a player. He has that self-belief and swagger you need to be successful; he will win a major televised title, it’s a question of when, not if.
I think Dave Chisnall is one of the leading candidates to be the next new major winner. Getting a wildcard to the 2014 Premier League has been the catalyst for his improvement on the television over the last 12 months. Chisnall was previously regarded as a ‘floor specialist’ but he now brings his best game to the main stage. Ironically, his improvement in major tournaments has sparked a slight decline in form for Chizzy on the Pro Tour.
He acquitted himself very well in the 2014 Premier League, but he often lost close contests from winning positions. However, he has become a far stronger match-player as he has gained valuable experience. In the opening three weeks of the current campaign, he didn’t play particularly well, but he ground out results, accumulating 5 points from a possible 6. This is because he now has a far stronger ‘B game’. When he’s not at his best, he still has the capacity to get results, which is an invaluable quality.
Chisnall’s also far stronger mentally. Although he is far more clinical on the doubles, he is prone to the odd horror-show, exemplified against Bunting last weekend, where he missed his first 15 darts at doubles. The Chizzy of last year may have lost about 9-2, but he brushed off the disappointment and almost completed a magnificent comeback thanks to some incredible scoring and improved finishing.
Chisnall’s consistency is probably the biggest concern for his hopes of winning a major title. Although he has become far more reliable, he still lacks the leg-on-leg consistency. We all know Chizzy is one of the most powerful scorers in darts; as illustrated in his last two Premier League fixtures, where he has averaged 107 and 110 respectively. If he can replicate these performances throughout the league phase, he will take some stopping.
When Stephen Bunting joined the PDC last January, everybody knew he had the quality to succeed, although his impact was far more significant and instant than many expected. He has already risen to 22nd in the world and will be confident of securing a Top 16 spot by the end of the year.
One of the biggest things in his favour is that he isn’t defending any prize money due to the PDC’s two-year rolling order of merit system. He has a free-run at moving further up the rankings which he will no doubt capitalise on. Another factor in Bunting’s favour is his experience of winning. He was extremely successful in the BDO, winning the Zuiderduin Masters, the World Masters (x2) as well as the BDO World Championship at Lakeside. He knows what it takes to win major titles under intense pressure; something that many of his challengers have yet to experience.
He has already reached the semi-finals of two PDC majors, a commendable achievement considering he has been unseeded and therefore had extremely difficult draws. However, he was evidently very anxious against Peter Wright in the UK Open Semi-Final last Sunday; the occasion appeared to get the better of him. This is particularly surprising given his pedigree and previous achievements.
I believe the Premier League experience will benefit Bunting. Although he is fighting relegation, I don’t believe this will adversely affect his confidence. He is relishing the prospect of facing the world’s elite week on week. Nevertheless, I do wonder whether Bunting needs to revert to his old equipment; he insists that his new darts were not a factor in his stuttering start to his Premier League campaign, but he isn’t throwing with his trademark confidence and conviction.
Peter Wright had a phenomenal run to the UK Open final at Minehead last weekend. It was his first major-final since losing 7-4 to Michael van Gerwen in the 2014 World Championships. Once again he was thwarted by the ‘Green Machine’. Wright’s performance against Phil Taylor in the quarter-finals was remarkable. Taylor was virtually flawless; averaging 109, hitting 8 180’s and hitting 67% of his doubles. However, Wright was just ruthlessly proficient; every time Taylor hit a 60 or even 100, Wright would capitalise to great effect. He hit superb finishes of 80, 96, 98 and 122 all with his last dart in hand. He then followed up his momentous victory over Taylor with a 10-0 whitewash over Stephen Bunting, where he recorded a 105 average. He lost 11-5 to van Gerwen in the final, although it was far closer than the score-line initially suggests.
Wright has always been a tenacious competitor who usually takes his chances, but his scoring power throughout the weekend was mightily impressive. The reason? His new darts and a quicker tempo. Wright has notoriously been quite a methodical thrower, but his greater fluency just demonstrates how confident he is with his current set-up.
Whilst I do admire his desire to experiment and improve, constantly chopping and changing is not conducive to consistency. But he proved at the weekend that he can average in the 100s on a regular basis; his tournament average was an excellent 102. If he maintains this form and stick with these darts throughout the year, he will be a real contender in all the major events.
To claim that Terry Jenkins will not win a PDC major is simply darting treason! Kim Huybrechts and Mervyn King are strong candidates to be new major winners, but I opted for Jenks. Huybrechts still hasn’t been consistent enough on television to warrant selection, whilst King is similar to Jenkins in many ways. He’s a top professional who has been an ever-present in the latter stages of tournaments, but for whatever reason, he’s been unable to get over the line.
Jenkins is a 9 times major finalist, but has yet to secure that elusive tournament win. However in fairness, the five opponents he has faced in the 9 finals are: Phil Taylor, Raymond van Barneveld, James Wade, Adrian Lewis and Michael van Gerwen. That’s as tough as it gets. However, Jenkins’ attitude to his near misses is refreshing; his reflects positively on the fact that he’s been a regular feature in major finals. As he legitimately points out, many top players go an entire career without even reaching a major final.
He possesses excellent scoring power and there are few better D20 hitters under pressure. He has an invaluable habit of winning close encounters; the major finals he’s lost have all been quite emphatic, often because his opponent has been in scintillating form, like Lewis at last year’s UK Open. I believe his best chance of major success will come in 3-day tournaments, where momentum can carry him through. The two finals he reached in 2014 were the European Championships and the UK Open; both 3-day events.
The 51-year-old from Herefordshire has been a Top 16 player for as long as I can remember. His first major final appearance came in July 2006 and he is still a threat today; this longevity is credit to Jenkins’ dedication and quality. He’s been too good and too consistent not to win a PDC major tournament. I think I speak for the entire darting public in saying that they would love ‘Bully Bully’ to taste major success. Will 2015 be his year?
Do you agree with my 5 potential new major winners? Are there other players you believe will win their first major in the near future? I would love to hear your views, so please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!