The Australian Goldfields Open begins on Monday with a field of recognisable faces but also missing several star names.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen were the leading players who elected not to enter.
However, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui and the defending champion, Barry Hawkins, are among those who have made the trip to Bendigo.
I’m sure we’ve all seen rotten matches between big names and great matches between lesser lights but perception is everything and the perception of the Australian Open is that it’s a poor relation of the other ranking events.
Its first prize is around £42,000, which is still pretty good but of course not everyone can win the first prize. It’s a long way to go for a mainly British tour and, if players are told they can pick and choose then it therefore follows that this is what they will do.
This is the final year of a three-year deal for the Australian Open. It remains to be seen whether the contract will be renewed.
It would be a rather cruel irony if it was not. Australia currently has the world’s top ranked player. However, Robertson’s progress through the tournament is actually less important than Ding’s. I have it on good authority that viewing figures in China are the key to the survival of the event, so Ding’s fortunes will be monitored closely.
One of the problems for players seems to be Bendigo itself, which is not one of Australia’s major cities.
But the television production values are among the best on the circuit. Between frames they show tourist shots of Melbourne rather than just watching the referee rack the balls up again. Michael O’Dwyer, the executive producer for IMG and master of ceremonies, is really enthusiastic and professional in pulling it all together.
Time difference, scheduling and a depleted field has seen Eurosport pass on covering the event live. Despite this it remains blocked in Europe on liveworldsnooker.tv although it is apparently available on Bet365.
With various title contenders not present the event gives the chance for players a little further down the list to grab some glory, as Hawkins did last year and Stuart Bingham in 2011.
It’s also a chance for Selby and Murphy, surprise casualties at the Wuxi Classic qualifiers, to regain some momentum.