The greatest show in darts got the final it deserved and the winner to match as Michael Smith made it third time lucky by seeing off Michael van Gerwen in a thriller at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday night.
Bully Boy, a pre-tournament 15/2 shot, had twice before made the final and twice before came up short, most recently 12 months ago as he was left in tears on the stage after succumbing to the brilliance of Peter Wright.
This time, however, there was to be no mistake from the outrageously gifted St Helens ace, who had way too much firepower and – critically – consistency, for the odds-on favourite Van Gerwen, running out a 7-4 winner.
The new world No.1 is 11/4 to successfully defend his title in London next year with Van Gerwen also to finally get his hands on the trophy for a fourth time.
But who were the other winners and losers from the 2023 PDC World Championship? And could we see the magnificent Michaels produce a rivalry that could run for years?
|What||PDC World Championship 2024|
|Where||Alexandra Palace, London|
|When||December 2023 – January 2024|
|How to watch||Sky Sports|
|Odds||Michael Smith 11/4, Michael van Gerwen 11/4, Gerwyn Price 15/2, Peter Wright 10/1, Josh Rock 12/1, Jonny Clayton 14/1, Luke Humphries|
Nathan Aspinall warned the rest of the darting world after Smith beat him in the final of the Grand Slam in November – beware the Bully Boy!
After eight major final defeats Smith had finally got the monkey off his back and now he's made it two majors in quick succession with the biggest of the lot.
And Smith had hinted, after gutsily pulling away from Gabriel Clemens in his semi-final at Ally Pally, that this was a new Smith. This was what major final success does to a player.
Many of those final losses, many of those big-game setbacks, weren't because he had been outplayed by an opponent – it was just that he had beaten himself.
Now, though, all that pent-up negativity, all those frustrations, are gone. Smith is a major winner now, and world champion, and world No.1. As the Asp says, the rest better beware.
Going into the final, Van Gerwen had been a 3/10 shot, and he had everything in his favour.
While Smith had been battling himself – and surprisingly stubborn opponents like Martin Schindler as well as Clemens – Van Gerwen has barely put a foot wrong, posting a quintet of ton-plus averages and three whitewashes en route to the big game.
But the final, and maybe the future paths of Van Gerwen and Smith, was encapsulated in one incredible leg in the second set, surely the greatest leg of darts ever.
Van Gerwen hit a 180, Smith matched it, MvG landed a 177 and Smith, with the crowd by now going nuts, banged in his second 180. Both men were on nine-darters.
Van Gerwen went first and went treble 20, treble 20 only to wire double 12, Smith followed up and made no mistake, going 60, 57 and nailing the same double Van Gerwen couldn't as Ally Pally erupted. It was outrageous, jaw-dropping stuff, but was it more than that?
Was it the moment when Smith said to Van Gerwen, you may think you're the best but I can match (and better) everything you throw at me.
And while Smith celebrated becoming world champ for the first time, Van Gerwen was left once again with that empty feeling.
Yes he's a three-time world champ, but that treble was completed four years ago and once again he has found someone better than him. Another year ticks by, another year when he isn't – if this title is the yardstick – the best player in the world.
That will hurt the Green Machine and it'll be fascinating to see his response.
It's quite possible, of course, that the Mighty Michaels forge a new duopoly - an absorbing, entertaining power struggle between two of the greatest throwers of this era.
Certainly, on the evidence of the past three weeks, they've left the other two members of the Big Four - Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright - in their wake.
Price is next year but after showing an ever-hostile crowd his vulnerability by sporting daft headphones in his quarter-final loss to Clemens, he looks like a player who will never conquer the Palace again.
Wright went into the finals with well-chronicled off-oche health issues – both him and latterly his wife, Jo – and he just didn't look focused. He also turns 53 this year and there's a new breed of fearless youngsters emerging.
Top of the list of next-generation aces are Luke Humphries and Josh Rock - two players who were well-fancied at the off this time despite no previous major-title success and – in Rock's case – limited big-stage experience.
World youth champ Rock played well in the four games he played before Jonny Clayton's Premier League-winning nous proved too much. But the Northern Irish debutant will come on for the run, while Humphries isn't going anywhere despite a dismal capitulation against Stephen Bunting.
Both men exited at the last 16 which is further than the likes of Gary Anderson or James Wade, and these newcomers are the future.
While Humphries, Clayton and one or two others fly the flag for the UK, there's a Euro invasion which needs to be monitored and enjoyed as well.
Six of the last 16 came from mainland Europe and perhaps what Clemens did in becoming the first German to reach the semis of the worlds will do for darts in his country what Barney's feats did for darts in the Netherlands.
The Low Countries are still a hotbed of young darting talent but look further afield, too, at the likes of Czech ace Adam Gawlas and Poland's Sebastian Bialecki, while Germany is packed full of future aces. Among them are Nico Kurz and Niko Springer plus, of course, Schindler.
When the Germans latch on to a sport the direction of progress is usually only one way and Clemens could well have opened the floodgates.