Jim Long caused a huge upset on the opening night of the 2023 bet365 US Darts Masters, dumping out reigning champion Michael Smith on a memorable evening at Madison Square Garden.
The Canadian veteran produced the performance of his career to dispatch World Champion Smith 6-2, defying five 180s from the St Helens star to seal his place in Saturday’s quarter-finals.
Long’s compatriot Jeff Smith also progressed on a thrilling night in New York, punishing a below-par display from Peter Wright to ensure two North American representatives will feature on Finals Day.
However, it was Long who stole the show at the Theater, landing three 180s and converting 97 and 115 checkouts to set up a last eight showdown against 2017 champion Michael van Gerwen.
“I’m still taking it in. Michael is the cream of the crop. I’m ecstatic,” claimed Long, a former World Cup of Darts quarter-finalist.
“This is the biggest win of my career by far. I was so nervous. I had so many friends here tonight so it’s a very special moment for me.
“It’s an honour to play these guys. As North American dart players, it’s a real blessing to have the opportunity to play the best players in the world.”
Van Gerwen opened his challenge with a resounding 6-2 win over Canadian newcomer Jake Macmillan, conjuring up a spectacular 141 finish to wrap up proceedings in style.
However, Wright was the second PDC superstar to succumb on a dramatic Friday night in the Big Apple, losing out 6-2 to former Lakeside Championship runner-up Smith.
Wright – sporting a change of grip as well as a change of darts – made a sluggish start to the contest, and he was suitably punished by the CDC Cross-Border Challenge winner.
Smith grew in confidence as the tie progressed, taking out 108 to move to the cusp of victory, before defying an 11-dart skin-saver from the Scot to celebrate a landmark victory.
“I’ve had a lot of good games with Peter over the last few years,” said Smith, who will be among the headline acts in Saturday afternoon’s North American Championship.
“My combination finishing is my claim to fame. If I am hitting doubles I’m going to beat people, and if I’m not, the chances are I’m going out pretty quickly.
“Peter was not at his best there and you just have to roll with the punches and take your chances, and I managed to do that.”
Gerwyn Price began his bid for a maiden US Darts Masters crown with a 6-1 demolition of American number one Jules van Dongen, averaging over 105 to continue his blistering form.
The Welshman registered winning legs of 13, 16, 14, 12, 14 and 12 darts to cap off an imperious display, confirming his progress with a sublime tops-tops 105 checkout.
“I felt comfortable, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” insisted Price, who made back-to-back World Series finals in Bahrain and Copenhagen back in January.
“I was off the pace in a couple of those legs, so I’m happy with the 105 average, but there’s still a lot more to come.
“I’m playing well, I’m confident in my game, so fingers crossed I can maintain my form and pick up that trophy.”
2019 champion Nathan Aspinall also averaged over 105 in his opening round win over Matt Campbell, producing a flawless display of finishing to account for Canada’s number one.
Aspinall – making his first appearance on American soil since lifting the title in Las Vegas – saw Campbell fight back from 4-2 down to level, before firing in legs of 11 and 14 darts to seal his spot in the last eight.
“Matt Campbell is the player that nobody really wanted to play,” insisted the former UK Open champion, who now takes on Jeff Smith for a place in the semi-finals.
“I knew I had to perform and I did. It was an amazing night. I really enjoyed the walk-on and so did the crowd, and I backed it up with a fantastic performance.
“I’m just on cloud nine. I’m in New York, playing at Madison Square Garden, playing a sport that I love. What is there not to be happy about?
“I just hope this continues because I’m in a very good place, and if Nathan’s in a good place, he can win titles.”
Rob Cross kicked off Friday’s first round action with a convincing 6-2 win over Tennessee’s Jason Brandon, winning five straight legs midway through the tie en route to victory.
Cross will take on Dimitri Van den Bergh in the last eight, after the Belgian defeated debutant JT Davis by the same scoreline, converting 121 and 130 checkouts to advance with a 95 average.
Elsewhere, Luke Humphries marked his New York debut by easing past CDC Continental Cup winner Alex Spellman, converting a brace of ton-plus finishes to celebrate a 6-2 success.
The US Darts Masters will conclude on Saturday evening, with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final taking place in a bumper session at the Theater.
In addition, Saturday's afternoon session will feature the bet365 North American Championship, as the eight US and Canadian stars battle for the coveted title and a place in the 2023/24 World Darts Championship.
The bet365 US Darts Masters will be broadcast live through DAZN in the US and Canada, as well as in various other worldwide territories and exclusively in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Other live global coverage will be broadcast through Viaplay in various territories including the Netherlands, as well as via PDCTV in all countries outside Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
2023 bet365 US Darts Masters
Schedule of Play
Friday June 2
Rob Cross 6-2 Jason Brandon
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-2 JT Davis
Luke Humphries 6-2 Alex Spellman
Nathan Aspinall 6-4 Matt Campbell
Gerwyn Price 6-1 Jules van Dongen
Jeff Smith 6-2 Peter Wright
Jim Long 6-2 Michael Smith
Michael van Gerwen 6-2 Jake Macmillan
Saturday June 3
bet365 North American Darts Championship
Schedule of Play
Quarter-Finals (1300 EST)
Matt Campbell v Jason Brandon
Alex Spellman v JT Davis
Jeff Smith v Jim Long
Jules van Dongen v Jake Macmillan
Campbell/Brandon v Spellman/Davis
Smith/Long v Van Dongen/Macmillan
All matches best of 11 legs
2023 bet365 US Darts Masters
Evening Session (1900 EST)
Jim Long v Michael van Gerwen
Rob Cross v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Gerwyn Price v Luke Humphries
Jeff Smith v Nathan Aspinall
Best of 11 legs
Long/Van Gerwen v Cross/Van den Bergh
Price/Humphries v Smith/Aspinall
Best of 13 legs
Best of 15 legs