STEPHEN ‘The Bullet’ Bunting’s name is now up there with the legends of the sport after winning the BDO World Darts Championship victory in front of a packed Lakeside crowd and massive television audience.
After lifting a trophy etched with names of past winners John Lowe, Eric Bristow, Jocky Wilson, Keith Deller, Phil Taylor and Ray van Barneveld, the 28-year-old adopted St Helener has vowed to return to Frimley Green next year to defend it.
The number one ranked Bunting kept his cool in the sweltering conditions on stage to win Sunday’s final for the first time, beating Alan Norris 7-4 in a keenly fought tussle.
The Newtown-based Bunting collected £100,000 in prize money for taking out the top prize in the BDO wing of the darts world. His triumph immediately sparked the annual speculation as to whether he would join the likes of fellow St Heleners Dave Chisnall and Michael Smith in the PDC.
But now despite winning everything the BDO has to offer, Bunting believes he still has goals to achieve there.
He said: “PDC has always interested me but it would be good to see if I can defend my Lakeside title and see if I can get a third Winmau title.
“That would be good, but I would never say never to the PDC but we have not spoken about it.
“You look at the trophy and you see the players that have won it in the past – likes of Taylor, Bristow, Deller and Van Barneveld – there are only two players in the PDC who have won their version of the world championship who have not won this trophy.
“I would go as far as saying this is the biggest trophy in world darts.
“As soon as they gave me the trophy it was the best feeling in the world. That was the seventh time at the Lakeside and it just proves how difficult it is.”
Bunting had been highly fancied to win the Lakeside tournament the previous two times but had suffered surprise early exits.
This time around he felt his preparation was spot on, particularly his practice sessions over the festive period that saw The Bullet start the competition firing on all cylinders.
Bunting said: “I had tried to relax as much as I could. I had got my preparation right and it paid off.
“Winning back-to-back masters helped relax me because usually leading up to the first games I am really nervous, but this year it was different.
“My preparation was different because Steve Barrow, who throws at the Sprayhurst and for Lancashire County, practised with me all over Christmas and the New Year. So I was proper prepared and fresh.
“I took each games at a time and obviously that is my darting highlight so far.”
Bunting comfortably saw off Jim Widmayer and Dave Prins in the opening rounds, but had to rally from two sets down to win the last five sets of his quarter final against Dutchman Rick Hofstra.
A comfortable 6-1 semi-final win in the heavyweight Merseyside derby against Robbie ‘Kong’ Green, watched by 1.8 million viewers, set Bunting up nicely for his first final.
It was nip-and-tuck with missed doubles seeing Bunting spurn chances to go in 4-2 at the break instead of level pegging with the determined Norris.
“I did kick myself at the break at 3-3 but it was one of those things.
“I knew it was going to be weird for both of us with it being our first final, just as I had a strange feeling in the semi final because I had never been that far in this tournament before so you don’t really know what to expect.
“You just know you have to play your best darts if you want to win the title. I ended up with a 96.33 average which is not bad.
“I think the fact that had won the Winmau on TV helped me whereas Alan is still looking for his first TV title. He nevertheless put up a big performance.”
Not as big a performance as Bunting, though, who rattled in 12 180s on his way to winning the final.
The 28-year-old’s victory is the pinnacle of his darts career so far, following up from back-to-back Winmau Masters, which saw him recognised with the Pride of St Helens Sportsperson of the Year in November.
He had special words of praise for those who have supported him, especially fiancée Keila, John and Jacqui at Nevada Darts and Target Darts his supplier.
“My phone has gone absolutely mental since Sunday. I can’t keep up with it but it’s a great feeling.
“I have done all the titles in the BDO. The new one is coming up the World Dart Trophy at Blackpool – and that is my next one to aim for,” he said.
Tributes poured in for the popular arrows ace, among them was one from Karl Holden from A180 Darts where Bunting used to work.
“We were so proud to have him working for us for three-and-a-half years.
“We have got so many great memories, but he is a pro dart player now and he will get better. He has put St Helens on the map in a big way,” he said.
Mike Rush, CEO at Saints added his congratulations to the town’s latest sporting hero.
“Everyone at Saints would like to congratulate Stephen on his World Championship win. St Helens is a town filled with sporting greats and we have no doubt that Martin Murray will be a World Champion soon too! Stephen’s win is great recognition for him and the area,” he said.