Christmas is right around the corner, and that can only mean one thing.
The darts World Championship is here!
Last year’s tournament produced some incredible moments, none more so than Smith and Van Gerwen’s incredible leg in the final. Both players hit 8 perfect darts, but after Van Gerwen missed the crucial double 12, Smith stole the momentum and hit an astonishing 9-darter.
Smith went on to win that final, thanks in-part to the shift in momentum that that 9-dart leg gave him. He comes into the 2024 Championships as the defending champion, but not as the favourite.
The reigning champ is coming into the tournament in a little bit of a rut. With early exits in the Players Championships, the Grand Slam of darts and the European Championships, Smith has seen his form drop at the wrong time.
As is tradition, Smith will open up Friday night against the winner of Rusty-Jake Rodriguez and Cameron Menzies and will be desperate to start his title defence on the right track. Smith’s recent poor form has been mirrored by the bookies pricing of him at 14/1 to defend his crown, incredible odds for a defending champion.
Despite recent poor form, the experience of lifting the Sid Waddell trophy (and the manner in which he did so) will no doubt give Smith a large amount of confidence. Smith was always a player who struggled with nerves, but since winning the Worlds, has looked more composed when big moments arrive.
It wouldn’t be wise to write off a man who has recent history of producing exceptional darts when the pressure is on.
So, if not Smith then who is the favourite for this year’s title? Many of you may be thinking the likes of Van Gerwen, Price, Wright, or Anderson.
But actually, it is a young talent who has taken the tour by storm in the last few months and is undefeated in his last two tournaments.
Humphries is currently having the season of his life. He won his first major tournament back in October when he beat Price for the Grand Prix and has carried that form right up to the Worlds, claiming both the Grand Slam and the Player’s Championship.
‘Cool Hand Luke’ had always been a talented youngster, with one of the most beautiful throws on the circuit, but had always struggled to turn that talent into results. Now he is doing just that and is running through opposition with a style and elegance that makes him irresistible to watch.
It would be some ask for Humphries to win three tournaments on the bounce, but there is something very special about him and if he produces anything like the level he has in the last months, he will be very hard to stop.
So, who else is amongst the favourites for the title?
Well, the usual suspects of Van Gerwen, Price and Anderson are the next three after Humphries.
Of those names the one that might surprise a few of you is Gary Anderson.
The former two-time World Champion’s career seemed to be on the decline, but a recent turn of form has seen Anderson be considered a serious ‘dark horse’ by those in the darting World, including the great Phil Taylor.
Anderson seems to have re-discovered his love for the sport and has valuable experience of what it takes to win the Worlds. He will definitely be one to look out for.
You can’t really mention darts without Michael Van Gerwen. Despite this, it has been five years since the ‘Green Machine’ won the most coveted title in darts. It was once thought that Van Gerwen would win a multitude of titles, and while he still has three, he would have hoped for more.
Van Gerwen is however normally very consistent when it comes to the Worlds and will most likely produce a deep run. He will just have to hope he doesn’t come up against anymore inspired opposition, which seems to have happened in the last few iterations of the tournament.
Gerwyn Price is also amongst the host of former champions in and around the bookie’s favourites. It has been a quiet year on tour for Price despite his usual high standards. He will once again play the villain and get the crowd going, but we will have to wait and see whether this can inspire him to produce the darts that took him to the 2021 title.
Much like Price, former two-time champion Peter Wright was having a lacklustre season, but recently won the European Championships, making his odds of 25/1 somewhat enticing.
In terms of outside players to keep an eye on, Josh Rock was the breakthrough player of the last World Championships where he made the last 16. Rock is one of the most promising talents on tour and easily possesses the potential to be one of the world’s best players. Could 33/1 be an enticing bet?
Rob Cross, Nathan Aspinall, Steven Bunting, and James Wade have all had good seasons. Aspinall has always looked capable of winning the Worlds having made the semi-finals on two occasions. Like Rock he is 33/1.
Jonny Clayton went into last year’s tournament as one of the favourites for the title. ‘The Ferret’ had an astonishing 2022, but in comparison his 2023 campaign has been very disappointing. He comes into the 2024 tournament at 50/1, which considering he was second favourite for the title last year is quite a fall.
Everybody knows Clayton has the quality to compete late into the tournament, but he will need to find his form pretty quickly if he is to challenge for the title.
All in all, this World Championship looks to be one of the best yet. There are a whole host of players who could potentially triumph and the battle to crown one champion will be immense. It would be fantastic if Humphries could win his debut championship, but the experience of already lifting the title cannot be underestimated.
The next few weeks is going to be entertainment of the highest festive quality.
There is only one thing these players want for Christmas…