Newly crowned world champion Peter Wright made it back-to-back televised titles as Michael Smith squandered three darts at double to win a first major crown in a dramatic finale to the 2020 Ladbrokes Masters in Milton Keynes.
Wright defeated Michael van Gerwen to win his maiden PDC World Championship on New Year’s Day and the Scot clinched the first silverware of the 2020 campaign with a dramatic deciding-leg success over Smith to scoop the £60,000 top prize on Sunday evening.
‘Snakebite’ was ironically considered the darting bridesmaid prior to sealing World Championship glory, having claimed the solitary televised triumph at the 2017 UK Open despite appearing in over a dozen major finals. However, that tag has certainly been dispelled.
Smith was the underdog on this occasion, as he continued his bid for a maiden TV crown. It took Wright five attempts to capture his first major and Smith was appearing in his fifth big final, although for the second time in his career, the St Helen’s star spurned multiple darts for the title.
Wright outplayed ‘Bully Boy’ for the majority of Sunday’s showpiece, although Smith’s battling qualities were evidenced throughout. There was a notable disparity in the averages as Smith averaged below 90 despite rattling in eight maximums, yet his tenacity was particularly impressive.
The pair kicked off proceedings by trading 14-dart breaks, before Wright established control. Smith landed three 180’s in a four-leg spell but failed to make an impact on the scoreboard, as the second seed moved 4-1 ahead at the first interval – a 12-darter in leg three providing an early highlight.
Snakebite dominated the second session, averaging 10 points more than his opponent. However, the World Cup of Darts winner was left frustrated as he was unable to extend his buffer, as Smith capitalised on missed opportunities from Wright to reduce the arrears to 6-4.
The world champion was ominously dominant on his own throw as a series of 13-dart holds helped him to create an 8-5 cushion, although he gifted Smith a reprieve in leg 14, frittering away two darts for a 9-5 cushion having fired in a fourth maximum to leave 50 after nine darts.
The world No 5 took full advantage with a 13-dart hold, before pouncing on another error from Wright in leg 15. The Scot bust an 88 finish and failed to convert the same checkout on his return and Smith sank double six to break, before conjuring up an effortless 130 kill to level at eight apiece.
‘Bully Boy’ had the momentum but wired tops for a fourth consecutive leg and a 9-8 lead, yet he was gifted another lifeline in the following leg, as Wright wasted three more at double to move to within one leg of the title.
The Scot overcame further double-trouble to edge to the brink of victory at 10-9, although suddenly Smith discovered the heavy artillery that had deserted him for much of the contest – landing a seventh maximum and closing out an 11-dart hold to force a dramatic conclusion.
Wright had the advantage of throw but surrendered the initiative as Smith followed up an eighth maximum with a brilliant 140, but in a repeat of his agonising 2018 World Series Finals defeat against James Wade, the 29-year-old frittered away three match darts at tops and tens for glory.
The St Helen’s star sank to his knees in despair and Wright, fresh from registering a sublime 171 to pile on the pressure, had three darts of his own to win a third televised title. Snakebite missed his first two at double eight but kept his cool with the third to seal the deal in breathless fashion.
Having lifted the Sid Waddell Trophy on New Year’s Day, Wright kicked off the tournament with an impressive 103.55 average and a 10-7 win over Joe Cullen, although his progress to Sunday’s showpiece was particularly serene.
The 49-year-old annihilated an abject Dave Chisnall 10-0 in the quarter-finals, averaging 97.60 to Chisnall’s 78.94, as the St Helen’s star suffered the first whitewash defeat in the tournament’s history. Wright’s reward was a quarter-final clash with his World Cup partner Gary Anderson.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ produced an electrifying display to dismantle Grand Slam champion Gerwyn Price 10-2 in the last eight, despite ‘The Iceman’ averaging almost a ton. Anderson was in rampant mood, averaging 102.39 and reeling off seven consecutive legs to dump out the third seed.
Anderson was a runner-up at this event in 2017 although the two-time world champion was denied by his imperious compatriot on this occasion. Wright’s clutch finishing was magnificent throughout and he defied a late rally from Ando to close out an 11-7 triumph with a 121 checkout.
Smith had never previously progressed beyond the quarter-finals in his previous four Masters appearances, but ‘Bully Boy’ battled past Adrian Lewis and Nathan Aspinall respectively to reach his fifth televised final, only to be thwarted in heartbreaking circumstances against Snakebite.
Having seen off Mensur Suljovic in his opener on Friday, Smith stormed into a 4-0 lead against two-time world champion Lewis, only to see ‘Jackpot’ reel off five straight legs and secure the initiative. However, Smith rallied to win six of the last seven legs and prevail with a modest 88.04 average.
This set up a semi-final showdown against Aspinall, who edged out Michael van Gerwen’s conqueror Jonny Clayton in an enthralling last eight clash. The mercurial Welshman missed just two darts at double in a clinical display, only for ‘The Asp’ to close out a 10-8 success with a 95 average.
The UK Open champion defeated Smith in last year’s US Darts Masters finale, although the world No 5 fired in a nerveless 14-darter to come through a gruelling last-leg decider, recovering from 6-4 behind to prevail with a 92.48 average, six 180’s and a 46% success rate on the outer ring.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Sunday February 2
Afternoon Session (1245 GMT)
Michael Smith 10-6 Adrian Lewis
Nathan Aspinall 10-8 Jonny Clayton
Gary Anderson 10-2 Gerwyn Price
Peter Wright 10-0 Dave Chisnall
Evening Session (1900 GMT)
Michael Smith 11-10 Nathan Aspinall
Peter Wright 11-7 Gary Anderson
Peter Wright 11-10 Michael Smith