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Luke Littler of England celebrates with the runner-up trophy after the World Darts Championship Final between Littler and Luke Humphries, both of England, at Alexandra Palace in London, on Jan. 3.Tom Dulat/Getty Images

The dream run of Luke “the Nuke” Littler finally came to an end on Wednesday, but even in losing the 16-year-old has left his mark on the game of darts and created a buzz that will likely last for a long while yet.

Mr. Littler came up short in the final of the PDC World Darts Championship in London, falling to “Cool Hand” Luke Humphries seven sets to four in a best of 13 format.

Mr. Humphries, ranked No. 1 in the world, came out strong and won the first set comfortably. Mr. Littler kept his focus and went up four sets to two. But Mr. Humphries, 28, regained his composure and won five straight sets en route to his first title.

He also racked up 23 scores of 180, the highest possible point total with three darts. That was just off the tournament record of 25. By contrast, Mr. Littler hit 13 180s.

“I honestly can’t put into words how great this feels,” Mr. Humphries said after the victory. “It makes it more incredible for myself mentally because there was a time in my life when I was really depressed. I couldn’t do it on the big stage and went through a lot of problems.”

In a nod to Mr. Littler he added: “All day, in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking, ‘Get this won now because he’s going to dominate world darts soon.’ He’s an incredible player, he’s relentless.”

Despite the loss, Mr. Littler has been the clear star of the tournament. He’s the youngest player ever to make it to the final, not to mention the youngest to win a match at this level.

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said after Wednesday’s match. “I might not get to a final for another five to 10 years, we don’t know. But I can say I’m a runner-up. Now I want to go and win it.”

The hype surrounding the youngster isn’t likely to fade. It has been building ever since he took his opening match at the championship on Dec. 20. Back then the rowdy crowd at London’s Alexandra Palace, also known as the Ally Pally, mocked him by singing “You’ve got school in the morning.”

But as his wins rolled on, the tune became something of an anthem as darts fans, and the country, embraced the kid from Warrington, west of Manchester, and his historic quest for the title.

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Luke Littler of England in action during the semifinal match against Scott Williams at the World Darts Championship, on Jan. 2.Kin Cheung/The Associated Press

Soon Mr. Littler was being courted by soccer stars and featured on the front pages of nearly every British newspaper. His remarkable run at the tournament – which included six straight wins – broke viewership records for Sky Sports and had commentators at a loss for words.

“I know bugger all about darts but Luke Littler might have a future. I mean, WOW!” soccer broadcaster Gary Lineker said on X.

Losing to Mr. Humphries was nothing to be ashamed of. He’s been among the best players on the tour over the last few months, winning four major titles including the PDC championship. Wednesday’s win – worth £500,000 ($846,000) in prize money – was his 19th in a row.

He’s also come back from a long battle with anxiety that nearly forced him to quit darts after his first year as a pro in 2017. “I was almost ready to give the game up because I didn’t know if I could do it, but I have worked out ways to control it,” he told Sky Sports last month.

He went back home to Thatcham, west of London, and took up roofing with his father and brothers. He slowly returned to darts in 2018 and had a breakout year in 2023.

But it’s Mr. Littler who will be talked about for years to come.

Some have compared his accomplishment to a young Tiger Woods, soccer great Pelé, tennis ace Boris Becker and Emma Raducanu’s improbable win at the U.S. Open in 2021 as an 18-year-old.

Those comparison are overblown. But like the others, he has managed to transcend his sport and make darts part of everyday conversation. How else to explain BBC Radio 4′s flagship news program, Today, featuring a lengthy report about Mr. Littler’s exploits during its Wednesday broadcast?

A more apt parallel might be the groundbreaking run Fallon Sherrock had in 2020 when she became the first woman to make it to the quarter-finals of the PDC championship. “I’d say it’s kind of a heightened version of Fallon to a point,” said Samuel Gill, editor of Darts News. “Both of them were kind of known before it happened, but nobody kind of expected them to do what they’ve done so quickly.”

Ironically, Mr. Littler’s age could work against him in the short run, at least financially. Betting companies are major sponsors in darts but Mr. Littler can’t be associated with any bookies because he’s under 18. He also can’t be a spokesman for a beer brand or any alcoholic beverage company until he reaches the legal drinking age of 18.

Mr. Littler’s down-to-earth manner and stunning success could translate into a comfortable lifestyle in years to come.

He’s certainly not getting carried away with all the attention. When asked what he planned to do with his £200,000 winnings from the tournament, Mr. Littler spoke about heading to a pair of traditional English resort towns.

“All my friends are watching at home,” he said. “We’ve always said we need to go Blackpool or Alton Towers so I think they will be looking at me like ‘You’re paying, Luke’ and I’ll be like ‘Yeah, okay.’”

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