The best of the best at filling it up.
At the halfway stage of 2022 Michael Smith has already broken the tournament record for most 180s at three ranking events, two of them majors. Smith’s maximum exploits have been thought provoking in the sense of how he compares with the 180 giants of the past.
Of the televised ranking events on the current calendar (excluding the European Tour which is now on TV in Germany), Smith holds the record in two (the World Championship and UK Open). The remaining four are shared between Adrian Lewis (World Matchplay, Grand Slam of Darts), Michael van Gerwen (World Grand Prix) and Dave Chisnall (Players Championship Finals). Of the other coveted televised titles, Chisnall has the most at a Masters event whilst Jose De Sousa is the new Premier League record holder (another of Anderson’s long standing yardsticks to be beaten in the last two years). Anderson still has the most in a World Series event.
Our Twitter poll named Anderson, Smith, Lewis and Chisnall as the most likely contenders, and by and large, this seemed to be met with quiet agreement from our followers. Jose De Sousa was the most recurring name to pop up outside of that list and Simon Whitlock and Peter Wright both got mentions. Of the original four, Anderson won the poll with 37.8% of the vote, Smith was second (33.5%), Lewis a distant third (16.5%) and Chisnall fourth (12.2%).
The 180 King cannot be crowned on sheer volume alone; we must consider the number of legs played and therefore the ‘run rate’ of these players.
One general trend stands out: 180s per leg played amongst the big hitters has been less impressive in the last five years (2017-2022) than it was in the previous five (2012-2016). There have been more tournaments over which to measure the more recent chapter (and especially more for which we have data), which will have had some impact. Even so, numbers for 2012 to 2016 are large enough in many cases to make them a valid comparison.
Chisnall wins the prize for longevity, hands down. In his eleven complete years of PDC action since gaining a tour card, he has been in the top five in the world for 180s-per-leg nine times, and has been in the top two seven times. Five of those seven were at number one! All of these are records, as is the fact that he is the only player to finish top of the charts three years in a row (2017 to 2019). Here’s another one – of any year in which we have at least 200 legs registered for a player, Chizzy has the highest per leg rate – 0.48 in 2012 (his second year in the PDC). Shall we stop here?
Reading the last paragraph, you would be forgiven for asking where those 600-odd voters were when darts was happening throughout the previous decade, and it was around the turn of that decade that 180s were arguably at their most ludicrous in the upper echelons of the sport. To be fair, the poll did ask for consideration of the contestants each at the peaks of their powers, and Chisnall’s 0.48 was actually bettered by Adrian Lewis, but over fewer legs on record, in 2009. Lewis was 0.49 from 167 legs. It would be reasonable to place these two years neck-and-neck based on the additional legs Chisnall played, although Lewis was also a close 0.46 in 2010 over double that number of legs (333). It is easy to forget, given his struggles in later years, just how inevitable that third dart from Jackpot was when the first two were already sitting in the bed. So much so, he decided not to bother looking against Peter Manley.
Enter Gary Anderson, who in 2011 was 0.47 over 492 legs played. We will talk a little about more recent benchmarks, but all things considered, this possibly remains the most outstanding year for 180-hitting in darts’ history. Whether or not the 2009 version of Lewis could have sustained his rate over another 350 legs or the 2012 version of Chisnall over another 260, will never be known, however we would probably just about give Anderson the nod when comparing these years. Added to this, The Flying Scotsman was number one in two of the next four years, out of anybody to play more than 300 legs (his numbers were between 0.41 and 0.43). Michael van Gerwen’s most prolific year for 180s was 2015 in which he was landing them at 0.43 per leg. He was still a shade behind Anderson.
In spite of Michael Smith shooting down records in 2022, he is only second in the PDC on a per-leg basis, for the year. Dirk van Duijvenbode has 0.39 per leg over 753 played, which is superior to Bully Boy’s 0.36 over 1253. The best of Smith is probably yet to come – this is his strongest year on this measure since 2014, when we have far fewer legs registered.
Van Duijvenbode is on track to be the best on this metric since 2016. Currently that label belongs to Chisnall, who finished 2017 with 0.38 over almost 900 legs.
We can only speculate about the reason for the apparent decline in these per-leg rates. It is harder to sustain such insane precision over many more games of 501, and there is the evolution of the art of switching to take into consideration too. Unfortunately, we didn’t measure scores of 171-177 until 2017 and these are indisputably on the rise as more players turn down 180 opportunities in favour of an alternative three-treble contribution. Michael van Gerwen is the highest profile exponent of the switch, something which has certainly affected his 180 output. On scores of 171+ (including 180s) van Gerwen topped the pile four years in a row from 2016 to 2019 but has only reached a high of sixth in the subsequent three years. Even within his untouchable winning phase, The Green Machine was short of the peak levels of Chisnall, Anderson and Lewis for three-treble scores on a per-leg basis.
So, who is the very best of the best? The facts are there, but the crowning isn’t so easy. We will let you decide!
Jose De Sousa fans who touted his inclusion would have been influenced by that ridiculous debut year in the Premier League, however at 0.43 per leg in that tournament, over fewer legs played, he does not stack up against some of those previous spells from players over entire seasons and his longer-term ratio is much less still. Peter Wright was another to get a shout and he indeed holds several records outrightly or jointly for 180s in a match at events (including the World Championship). Despite this, Snakebite has only made the tour’s top five twice and his best year returned a score of 0.35. Similarly, Simon Whitlock has demonstrated hot streaks, none more so than 20 in a match at the Grand Slam against van Gerwen (a record), although The Wizard isn’t in the company of the greatest, across time frames of any length. In fact, Whitlock probably can’t be regarded as the finest 180 hitter from Australia either. That accolade should go to Kyle Anderson, who was in the top two of the tour twice running, pipped to the post only by the Treble 20 phenomenon that is Chizzy. In 2017 and 2018, Kyle left players like Gary Anderson and Michael Smith in his wake when it came to regularity of filling up the red bit. The Original will never be forgotten, and there’s another reason why.