Ronnie to Rocket to his fifth Masters title?
Although The Masters is not a ranking event in the snooker calendar, it is still held in high regard on the circuit with one of the sport's biggest treasure chests for the winner.
The tournament, held at the Wembley Arena, consists of the top 16 seeds from the rankings along with the winner of the qualifying tournament and one wildcard place granted at the discretion of the governing body. Jimmy White is this year’s wildcard, and the ever popular “Whirlwind” will take on world number 16 Mark King in one of two first-round matches, the other being Mark Williams v Rory McLeod, with the winner facing Stephen Maguire in the second round.
There have been some memorable matches in The Masters over recent years that secure its place as one of the great snooker tournaments. Stephen Hendry beating Mike Hallett 9-8 after trailing 8-2 in the 1991 final. The 1997 final where the long standing force of Steve Davis beat a young rising star named Ronnie O’Sullivan in a thrilling match that many of you might remember due to the streaker but the on-table antics of Davis winning 6 games in a row to win 10-8 was the real show here.
Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan cues off his defence of the title as 5/2 favourite. Fancy new purple cue or not you have always got to fancy Ronnie to at least get the final two, don’t forget each-way place terms are available on all these prices at ½ the odds for anyone to reach the final. The Rocket has won it 4 times in the past and even though his commitment to the sport has been questioned in the past he has announced his desire to win this tournament. In the right frame of mind, Ronnie is almost unstoppable and unless you are looking for some value on a place term I’d recommend him all the way.
Stephen Hendry is arguably the most successful player at The Masters, albeit mainly in the early 90s, as he won an unprecedented 5 titles in a row from 89-94 and you can get an impressive 50/1 on him reclaiming those glory days. This trophy will also hold a special place in a lot of snooker fans hearts as it was Paul Hunter’s last tournament victory, also an impressive three from four years, in 2004 before his untimely death in 2006.
There has been a bit of controversy surrounding this year’s tournament with the failure to find a new sponsor right up until 4 days before it starts. New World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn was able to get a last minute affiliate and hopes to use his new found power to show there is no grey cloud hanging over snooker and put on a real show for the fans.
Elsewhere in the betting, John Higgins MBE is second favourite at 4/1. Having won this tournament twice before and ending 2009 in impressive form Higgins certainly looks like the biggest threat to O’Sullivan. If Higgins gets past Allen in his last 16 tie it will set up an intriguing Quarter-final tie with either Selby or Junhui. If he gets through the early round tests and meets O’Sullivan in the final he certainly has one of the best chances of beating him and I hope they do match up as it will no doubt be a thrilling encounter.
For a long shot I’m sure a lot of you will be looking towards wild-card Jimmy White to put on a show for all his fans. The one time champion of this tournament is priced as joint outsider at 150/1. Jimmy is holder of the unwanted title of being on the receiving end of one of only two 147 maximum breaks in this competition from Kirk Stevens in 1984, although that year Jimmy went on to win so it’s not all bad. After plying his trade on the celebrity circuit in the jungle, Jimmy is admittedly not at the peak of his playing career, but with the crowd behind him if he can get through his wildcard round – why not? Stranger things have happened.
Some other potential barriers to Ronnie breezing to another snooker circuit win include Ding Junhui at 8/1 outright. Ding reached the finals of the Grand Prix tournament and had impressive win in the UK Championship, donating his prize of his height in Pukka-Pies to a homeless charity in the process, to round off an impressive 2009 which shows his credentials at this level. Referring back to the “only two 147’s in this tournament” from earlier – the other one was completed by Ding against Andy Hamilton in 2007, the year Ding came runner-up.
Shaun Murphy also looks good at 10/1 to lift the title, although not doing too well against eventual victor Ding Junhui in the UK Championships, the world number three was suffering from flu and with a World Champion title under his belt amongst nine other wins there is definite quality and does look a good each-way bet.
Similar to Murphy, Peter Ebdon at 40/1 certainly provides a good price with 11 tournaments wins, one as World Champion in 2002, he certainly has the class to get to the final, definitely worth an each way punt.
Along with the outright prices, William Hill offers the usual match betting markets along with correct scores, total points and so on so there is no excuse not to have a flutter and enjoy this year’s Masters.
Masters first round:
Mark Williams (Wal) v Rory McLeod (Eng)
Mark King (Eng) v Jimmy White (Eng)
Masters second round:
Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) v Neil Robertson (Aus)
Marco Fu (HK) v Peter Ebdon (Eng)
Allister Carter (Eng) v Williams/McLeod
Shaun Murphy (Eng) v Stephen Hendry (Sco)
Stephen Maguire (Sco) v King/White
Ryan Day (Wal) v Joe Perry (Eng)
Mark Selby (Eng) v Ding Junhui (Chi)
John Higgins (Sco) v Mark Allen (NI)