The year is 2006. Phil Taylor and Jelle Klassen are the two world champions, Raymond van Barneveld has hit the Premier League’s first ever nine-darter, and Michael van Gerwen has hair.
Back then a 17-year-old van Gerwen was playing in the BDO and showing a very promising form after amassing a collection of youth titles the previous year, as well as senior victories in the Norway Open and Northern Island Open.
This young Dutchman was starting to get noticed, although few would have predicted the level of success he has achieved since then.
Let’s pick up the story in September 2006. Mighty Mike had already won the Open Holland, Welsh Open and Europe Youth Cup, as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the International Darts League on his debut.
Van Gerwen was about to play in his third major tournament – the World Darts Trophy in Utrecht, where 27 BDO and five PDC players would face each other in a knockout format over nine days.
He entered the contest as the sixth seed, but even so, caused a shock in the first round as he beat van Barneveld 3-2. He would follow this up with narrow wins over Simon Whitlock and Mervyn King before facing BDO veteran Martin Adams in the semi-finals.
Despite losing 6-4 to Wolfie, van Gerwen highlighted his credentials as he came within one dart of a nine-dart finish during the match, posting a 96.66 average in the process.
The journey to major success
This gave him a good footing ahead of the 33rd World Masters, emerging as one of the favourites for the title – particularly as a host of big-name players departed in the early stages.
There were no such problems for Van Gerwen though, as he was able to dispatch Edwin Max, Anthony Miera, Mick Cummins, Robert Wagner and Darryl Fitton on his way to another semi-final.
There he would face another up-and-coming talent, Mark Webster, with the pair sharing the opening four sets before a 160 checkout helped Webster take a 3-2 advantage.
The Dutchman was struggling with his doubles and Webster had three darts to open up a two-set lead, but surprisingly missed and allowed Van Gerwen to drop in a 96 finish to level things up at three-all in this race to six.
From then on Van Gerwen stepped up a gear and quickly rattled off the next three sets to win the match with a 76 checkout to book his place in the final. He would once again face Adams, who himself had whitewashed Steve Farmer as he looked to win his first Masters at his 18th attempt.
Up against Wolfie
Adams was the favourite, and he looked to be proving the form guide right as he raced into a 4-1 lead, although van Gerwen pulled one back before the mid-session interval.
Coming back after the break Adams restored his three-set advantage and looked to be on course for his first Master’s triumph, but the tide was beginning to turn.
Wolfie had been in complete control of the match up to this point, but a 104 checkout saw van Gerwen take the eighth set, before hitting the double top in set nine to move back within one of the then England captain.
Van Gerwen had the throw in the 10th set, and he reeled off two straight legs to level things up and set up a thrilling climax.
A 121 outshot saw van Gerwen take the first leg of set 11 against the darts. However, Adams broke straight back and had the darts to move one away from the title.
It looked as if Adams would take the set, as he stepped up to the oche needing 81 while van Gerwen wasn’t on a finish, all the way back on 204.
But Adams missed six doubles to take the set. Van Gerwen tidied up to take a 6-5 lead and was now throwing for his first major success.
The drama wasn’t over yet though, as Adams immediately broke the throw in the 12th set with a spectacular 161 finish.
Again doubles proved problematic for Adams though as he missed five attempts to take the match into a deciding set, and van Gerwen levelled things up and now only needed the next leg for glory.
In the end, van Gerwen took the last leg comfortably with a 99 outshot and broke Eric Bristow’s long-standing record to become the youngest ever winner of the World Masters.
Troubles at the Lakeside
Following this success speculation started that van Gerwen may make the jump to the PDC. However, he had committed to playing at the Lakeside in early 2007 and was the favourite to land the world championship at his first attempt.
He went into the tournament as the number three seed and would face Gary Robson, who at that point had only ever made it past the first round once.
It seemed like it would be an easy win for Mighty Mike. However, things are never quite that simple in darts, and van Gerwen looked nervous on the Lakeside stage as he missed double after double.
The more experienced Robson pounced on this, and a little bit of gamesmanship in getting the crowd on his side saw him take an unexpected 3-2 win.
Van Gerwen was out, and before the world championships had finished, he announced his intention to switch to the PDC.
Speaking during the 2007 UK Open, van Gerwen explained why he made the move, saying the PDC was “more professional” as well as wanting the chance to play big names like Phil Taylor and van Barneveld.
Despite not being in the BDO for very long, van Gerwen had left his mark, and while it would take him a few years to hit his stride in the PDC, he has now gone on to become a two-time world champion, has dozens of TV titles to his name and is the clear world number one.
There’s undoubtedly plenty more success in store for van Gerwen, but it all started in the longest running of professional darts tournaments – the BDO World Masters.