JEFF SMITH and Leonard Gates were the first players to secure places in the Dafabet US Darts Masters and Dafabet North American Championship at Tuesday's Qualifiers in Las Vegas.
Canadian ace Smith took glory in the 2018 North American Championship, and will defend his title on Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Casino & Resort.
The 43-year-old from New Brunswick defeated fellow Canadian Matt Campbell 4-3 in their Qualifier One final, coming from 3-2 down to claim the place in both the North American Championship and the US Darts Masters.
Smith dropped just three legs in his first four matches, defeating Joseph Newman, Shawn Burt, Nick Georgeson and Elliot Milk, before picking up a 4-2 win over Daniel Baggish in the quarter-finals.
He then overcame fellow Canadian David Cameron - a qualifier in Las Vegas for the past two years - in the semi-finals with a 4-1 victory before defying finishes of 100, 126 and 147 in the final against Campbell with a 13-darter in the deciding leg.
Campbell had produced the outstanding display of Qualifier One with a 108.5 average in his win over experienced American Roger Carter, but the 29-year-old from Hamilton had to settle for second place to Smith.
"It's phenomenal for me," said Smith. "I'm so pleased - my finishes were good and when it came the time to hit, I hit, so I'm happy.
"I showed a little bit of my experience in the final. I could see he tensed up a little bit at the end there, and it's all about exploiting the situation.
"I've been around a long time playing darts and you know when it's time to put the foot on the gas, and luckily I did that in the last leg."
Smith lost out to Michael van Gerwen in the US Darts Masters 12 months ago, but had secured a World Championship spot with his North American Championship triumph.
"Last year was such a highlight for me, it was amazing," he added. "I've had a Tour Card and then lost it but picking up a manager last year has allowed me to play darts with no pressure, and it's such a difference.
"I'm ready to go and looking forward to the task ahead later this week. I'm not going to shy away from the challenge - if you get the chance to play these guys, it's a feather in your cap. These events are huge for darts in North America."
Gates, meanwhile, will make his televised debut on Thursday after defeating 2018 North American Championship runner-up John Norman Jnr 4-2 to win the Qualifier Two final, coming from two legs down to take victory.
The 48-year-old from Houston also defeated Canadian World Cup ace Jim Long 4-1 in the semi-finals amongst seven victories to secure his spot alongside Smith.
"Thursday is going to be a whole new adventure for me," said Gates, a former Minor League Baseball player.
"I might not show it on the outside but the inside is full of joy - but I also know that there's more to come and I have to keep myself calm.
"It's another opportunity for me. I want to be prepared and I'll be practising hard on Wednesday to get ready.
"It's going to be exciting - I have to what I do on the board. This is the first time I've made it through so we're going to see what happens after this."
The US Darts Masters and North American Championship Qualifiers conclude on Wednesday with the third and fourth events, with those two winners to be joined by four players from the Qualifiers Order of Merit in claiming big-stage places.
Thursday will see the US Darts Masters first round - where the eight PDC stars take on the eight qualifiers - followed by the North American Championship,
The US Darts Masters concludes on Friday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final of the World Series of Darts event. For tickets, visit www.axs.com.
Click here for full Qualifier One Results
Alex Reyes 4-1 Robert Phillips
Matt Campbell 4-1 Shawn Brenneman
David Cameron 4-1 Gary Mawson
Jeff Smith 4-2 Daniel Baggish
Matt Campbell 4-3 Alex Reyes
Jeff Smith 4-1 David Cameron
Jeff Smith 4-3 Matt Campbell
Click here for full Qualifier Two Results
John Norman Jnr 4-3 Rod Snow
Darin Young 4-3 Gary Mawson
Jim Long 4-2 Joseph Chaney
Leonard Gates 4-2 Matt Campbell
John Norman Jnr 4-1 Darin Young
Leonard Gates 4-1 Jim Long
Leonard Gates 4-2 John Norman Jnr
Qualifiers' Order of Merit
Following Qualifier Two
|Pos||Player Name||Total $|
|6||John Norman Jnr||1,000|