I for one am pleased World Snooker have resisted the calls, that have come at various intervals over the years, to make the Masters into a ranking event.

It's prestige comes not from the fact that it carries ranking points but that it is for the elite. Only the top 16 plus Marco Fu (the season's Grand Prix champion) and Barry Hawkins (who won the qualifying event) will take part.

This is a tournament with a rich history. It was first staged in 1975 and has been won by most of the game's great and good.

Cliff Thorburn captured the title three times in the 1980s. Stephen Hendry won it the first five times he took part and has been the winner a record six times. The late Paul Hunter made three extraordinary comebacks to win it in deciding frame finishes earlier in this decade.

The Masters, sponsored by Saga Insurance, who are donating money for each 50 break made to the Paul Hunter Scholarship (which provides practice facilities and advice for a young up-and-coming players), is no longer held at Wembley Conference Centre.

It can't very well be as it's been knocked down. The Wembley Arena isn't quite the same but it least it provides continuity.

This year's event, like every year, is hard to call. The top two players in the provisional rnakings - Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Maguire - face each other in a mouth-watering clash on the opening day.

888.com world champion John Higgins tackles last year's runner-up, Ding Junhui, in a tough last 16 meeting.

Who would you pick out of Ken Doherty (whose form has declined a little of late) and Mark Williams (who has begun to find some)?

Can Graeme Dott beat Stephen Lee for only the second time in eight meetings?

And what about Hendry, whose exploits at Wembley down the years saw him chosen as the first sportsman to have a cast of his hands laid at the Walk of Fame outside?

He turns 39 on Sunday and I have interviewed him for this weekend's Scottish Sunday Herald. Without giving too much away before publication, it would be fair to say he is feeling pretty bullish ahead of the tournament.

Any suggestion that he can't cut it at the top level was knocked out of the park like an on-fire Freddie Flintoff.

Hendry faces Mark Selby in his first match. After that it doesn't get any easier but Steve Davis won the title at the age of 39 in 1997 so you never know.

O'Sullivan, though, has been in the Masters final for each of the last four years. I for one expect him to be there again in just over a week's time.


Anonymous said...

Ronnie O'Sullivan . anytime anywhere he could mop any player.

Anonymous said...

Well, I put my money on Shaun Murphy. He was very consistent in 2007, and that performance, sooner or later, must earn him another tournament victory. He has a tough draw of course - with the prospect of a semi-final against either Ronnie, Maguire, Selby or Hendry - but who hasn't?

In general, the top half of the draw seems tougher now than the bottom half.