Jimmy White, Naseem Hamed, Matt Le Tissier, Fernando Alonso. Professional sport is littered with gifted names that for various reasons, some within their own control and some just plain bad luck, didn’t convert as much as they should and/or could have done. Here we look at the ten biggest underachievers in darts.
This countdown shouldn’t be confused with other “best player never to win. . .” lists and debates that often come up. Some featured have managed to win big titles, but the common link is they haven’t matched their talent with the rewards that their ability warrants, for whatever reason.
This is always subjective and in the eye of the beholder. Disagree? We would love to know your own lists @dartsplanettv.
- Chris Mason
Major Finals – 0/0 – Career Average – 89.32
At the turn of the century, one of the greatest games of all time was played at the Lakeside Country Club featuring eventual champion Ted Hankey and Chris Mason. Mason led 4-2 in the race to 5 set semi-final and the devastation on his face when The Count checked out on double five for a place in the final was testament to his fierce competitive nature. Had he fallen over the line in that match, few would have backed against him in the final against Ronnie Baxter, who Hankey brushed aside 6-0 to seal his first win. The 33 maximums hit in the epic encounter between Ted and Chris remained the record in a televised game for 16 years and is still the highest ever in that version of the World Championship.
Darts planet’s own Mace the Ace is the first to acknowledge that his own daemons were his biggest foe and prevented him from achieving bigger things. Now one of the best analysts of the game on our screens and such a popular and relatable player in his pomp, he was an unfulfilled yet precocious talent on the oche.
- Mike Gregory
Major Finals – 2/5 Career Average – 89.46
One of only two players to miss dart(s) for a world championship win, it is a shame for Mike Gregory that political factors played a part in an abrupt downturn in form and fortunes following the split in the sport back in the nineties.
His decision to reverse on parting ways with the established set up along with the other top players at the time has ended up tarnishing an otherwise respectable career that could have been much richer, if only. Whilst some will argue the way he was ostracised and portrayed as the villain was of his own making, it could also be said that no player should ever have to feel he is risking his families’ livelihoods when simply trying to make a crust. Following his near miss in the 1992 classic against Taylor, he ended up in no man’s land in for the 1994 WC’s and never really recovered from the long fall out. Personal issues around the same time also played a big part in the decline according to Gregory himself.
Whilst he won back to back News of the World titles and several other important honours, such as defending the PDC’s first TV tournament, the Lada Masters, the quiet man of darts is the epitome of “what if’s”.
- Michael Smith
Major Finals – 0/5 Career Average – 95.62
The most likely player on this list to make this article look dated sooner rather than later, Michael Smith has bundles of time to put recent frustrations behind him and begin building a tower of titles as time goes on.
Darts is a game where mental maturity matters as much as anything and at 29, Smith is still younger than Phil Taylor was before he won his first World Championship. But the questions over his temperament seem to grow each year that passes and there is only so long you can be penned as a future star.
With each final, he seems to come closer and it surely is only a matter of time before the duck is broken, but this particular monkey hanging on his back is visibly starting to show its strain in crucial moments. It is certainly not a lack of hunger or desire that prevents him falling over the line, if anything at times he may want it a little too much, but Bullyboy often shows a lack of humility and an inability to produce a solid “B” game when things aren’t clicking. A brilliant front runner, but needs to find some scrap inside him.
- Alan Evans
Major Finals – 1/2 Career Average – 84.91
Often cited as the first professional of darts, Alan Evans made a living from being the first real character to exploit the exhibition circuit to its potential, owing to his fiery character and combative style.
To be fair on Evans, the lack of majors on his C.V. may be partly down to the fact that his best form came a smidge too early. Before the arrival of the World Championship, the Masters was perhaps the biggest title around, which he sealed in 1975. But he was still one of the best in the world when he watched his compatriot Leighton Rees win the first worlds at Jollees Club and for years afterwards too. Being hampered by a 12 month BDO ban for assaulting an official came at the worst possible time in 1979 and upon his return, he didn’t quite seem to have the same edge as before and definitely did not do himself full justice in the biggest competition of them all.
Evans is definitely a few biggies short of where he should have been, but it should not be underestimated how crucial his role was in propelling darts into the public eye in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
- Deta Hedman
Major Finals – 3/8 Career Average – 74.62
There isn’t a darts player alive who the label “should have been world champion” applies to more than Deta Hedman.
All three of her finals have presented golden opportunities for the greatest glory but she has been unable to kill off the games when it mattered most. 2-0 up to a 3-2 loss, hot flushes at the wrong time, miscounts leading to attempts at the wrong double – her story at the Lakeside has it all. Infectiously likeable, it has been borderline unbearable to watch as a fan, so heaven knows how it must have felt to be part of.
It is important we don’t overlook her mammoth list of other achievements in darts, however, with 100+ titles to her name and the first lady to beat a male player in a major TV tournament (the 2005 UK Open); Hedman is a trailblazer and inspiration for so many reasons. But this only confirms that she should have taken the Worlds at least once, probably more in that illustrious career.
- Adrian Lewis
Major Finals – 4/14. Career Average – 95.6
Possibly the most controversial entry on this list, but hang in there . . .
When “Jackpot” sealed the UK Open at 29 years old, his fourth big televised title (aside from the world cup wins as a pair), it would have been unthinkable to most that over six years later he would have failed to add any more major silverware to his portfolio. It seems crazy to say that a young, double world champion has underachieved, but that is a testament to just how talented Lewis is, how highly he was regarded a decade ago and how much he has fallen off the pace in the last 5 years.
No major finals since the 2016 loss to Anderson at Ally Pally and not even a semi final for three years, it appears this once formidable former protégé of Phil Taylor is in continual decline. Flashes of brilliance still remain but his chances of troubling the engravers of important trophies any time soon look slimmer than an anorexic stick insect. We should put a pin in this one though, as time is on his side to recapture former glories and the world of darts would be a much better place for it.
- Ronnie Baxter
Major Finals – 0/5 Career Average – 91.00
Only Phil Taylor can match Rocket Ronnie’s longevity in the limelight. Although Baxter would probably wish he had even a fraction of the major trophies The Power amassed during a similar time span.
Whilst he hoovered up a bucket load of lower level titles in his 30+ year career, when it came to the biggest games, it just didn’t happen for the Blackpool speed merchant. Several final appearances, including back to back Lakesides in 1999-2000 complemented long runs at least once in pretty much every major tournament he played in.
Possibly a little uneven at times to say he missed out on loads of big ones, but certainly had enough purple patches and knowledge of the game to expect a better return on the broadcasted stage than he has ended up with.
- Tony O’Shea
Major Finals – 0/7 Career Average – 89.63
If darts were a popularity contest, Tony O’Shea would be an all time great. A really loveable guy on and off the oche, it is rare that he is the second most popular player in any match. He is also pretty good at darts too, it should be added and has won plenty in his time to boot.
He no doubt gets a little tired of fending off questions in the many old-school style exhibitions he partakes in about always being the bridesmaid and often refers to his WDF World Cup win in 2009, broadcast in America at the time, to dampen the suggestions he will always be a runner up on the most important stages.
Turning 60 next year, it is highly likely he won’t add to that now and he freely admits two or three of the seven major finals he has been defeated in play on his mind as opportunities missed. He probably lacked that killer instinct to ever be a dominant force in darts, but at least one of those should have been converted when he was at his peak.
- Terry Jenkins
Major Finals – 0/9. Career Average – 93.05
They say nice guys finish last. In Jenkins’ case, nice guys finish second.
To be fair to “The Bull”, he never actually threw away any of the many major finals he has contested. But the fact that he never actually came anywhere near winning any of them is partly why he features in this countdown. Almost all of those matches were absolute thumpings. Okay, some of them were against a formidable Phil Taylor but many were not and it still didn’t seem to affect his performances in the biggest games of all.
The non-threatening attitude he displayed in earlier stages of TV tournaments often masked just how well he threw to continuously put himself in contention of major wins. There were few weaknesses in his game; a heavy scorer, big 180 hitter and brilliant at striking mid level finishes. In fact it is tough to think of many better at taking out shots from 81-121 than Jenkins. It seems he just lacked the same level of hunger and desire as some of his adversaries and when it really mattered, he was usually found lacking that extra bite that sets champions apart.
- Mervyn King
Major Finals – 2/11 Career Average – 93.17
The late snooker legend, Willie Thorne, had a reputation amongst fellow professionals as hitting more maximum 147s in practice than anyone else. Mervyn King is darts’ equivalent, with many top stars citing the number of 9-ers the former Masters champion smashes in the backroom as extraordinary.
Not many truly gifted throwers put in the work to match their talent, but King certainly does. Reportedly often first at the venue and always putting the hours in to prepare hard for any tournament, it is fair to say Merv’s trophy haul does not reflect the effort he has put into the game.
His Lakeside record is definitely below par and since joining the PDC he has had a few golden opportunities to win big. The capitulation that kicked off MVGs assault on majors in the 2012 Grand Prix perhaps best sums up King’s biggest hurdle in winning TV tournaments – the crowd. For a while he was public enemy number one after biting back at the baying mobs and was one of the first to start wearing earplugs to try and blank out his main distraction. Perhaps a bit of a traditionalist who prefers the best of order, it now may be that his best chances to add glory are past him.