The 2023 PDC World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace was a spectacular event in many ways. Michael Smith won the event for the first time after heartbreak in 2019 and 2022. Steve Beaton extended his own record with a 32nd consecutive appearance at the World Championship, while Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld reached 30 appearances. But the one moment that stood out was Smith's nine-dart finish, the only one at the tournament.
The nine-darter is an example of sporting perfection. Like a hole-in-one in golf or a 147 break in snooker. But Smith's nine-darter was special as it came in a leg where both players had a shot at the perfect checkout. Opponent Michael van Gerwen had taken the first set and looked in command. The three-times world champion held his throw to start the next set before Smith produced an 11-dart leg to level the scores. What came next had darts fans in ecstasy.
The leg lasted 61 seconds and featured 18 darts. What made it special was that both players had a shot at a nine-dart finish. Van Gerwen threw 180 (60, 60, 60), 177 (60, 60, 57), and then threw two more treble 20s, leaving him needing double 12 to complete the feat. However, his final dart hit the bed just millimetres outside the wire. Michael Smith had already thrown two 180s and now had a chance to make the shot himself. He hit treble 20, then treble 19, also leaving double 12. He landed the shot, sparking incredible scenes inside Ally Pally.
Commentator Wayne Mardle proclaimed: “That is the most amazing leg of darts you will ever see in your life.” He then screamed: "I can’t spake! I can’t spake!” emulating Rugby League commentator Mick Morgan's outburst in the 1994 Regal Trophy final between his beloved Castleford and Wigan at Headingly.
Smith seemed unfazed by his achievement and went on to win the tournament by seven sets to four. The win catapulted him to No. 1 in the world and, what's more, he has already been installed as the 5/2 favourite in the early sports betting Canada markets — where odds have already been published — to win the title next year. Michael van Gerwen comes in just behind at 11/4.
Smith's nine-darter along with Van Gerwen's contribution has prompted many to label it the best nine-darter of all time, eclipsing Phil Taylor's effort in the 2010 Premier League when he landed the second of two in the same match. It was the first time anyone had thrown two in a match; Taylor almost made it three but missed the treble 17 and had to settle for a 10-darter.
Michael Gerwen almost staked a claim for the best nine-dart finish in 2013 when he came within one dart of throwing back-to-back perfect legs. He was playing James Wade in the semi-finals of the PDC World Championship when he threw a nine-darter and then continued his run in the next leg, reaching 17 perfect darts before missing a double 12. The Dutchman also set the record as the youngest player to land a nine-dart finish at the 2007 Masters of Darts, at age 17.
Another contender for the best nine-darter of all time was Brendan Dolan's effort at the 2011 World Grand Prix. Dolan became the first player to throw a televised perfect leg having to start on a double. It was a special moment that sent the Dublin crowd wild.
However, few can argue that the new world No. 1's effort on the biggest stage of all, following on from his opponent's near-miss, makes it the greatest leg of darts ever played.