A rejuvenated John Higgins heads to York for the Betway UK Championship looking to take a step closer to breaking one of snooker’s ‘unbeatable’ records.
Few thought it possible that Stephen Hendry’s amazing tally of 36 ranking title triumphs would ever be bettered.
Ronnie O’Sullivan – with 27 ranking titles – seemed the obvious challenger, but the 39-year-old’s off-the-table problems mean he will be missing when the UK finals cue off on November 24 at the Barbican in York.
Higgins’s 10-5 victory over David Gilbert at the International Championship in Daqing, China, last week brought the Scot’s tally to 28, equalling the feat of his boyhood idol Steve Davis.
“It’s a special moment for me to get to 28 ranking titles,” said 40-year-old Higgins, who turned pro in 1992.
“Steve Davis was my hero growing up and back then I would never have dreamed I could equal any of his records. It’s a moment I will never forget.
“Stephen Hendry is still well out in front and maybe I won’t get to 36, but you never know.
“I’ve won three this year so if I keep doing that it will only take me three more years. I love snooker and I don’t think I’ll ever retire.”
Higgins’s success in China brought a £125,000 top prize, his biggest since he clinched his forth world title in Sheffield in 2011. He beat world No 1 Mark Selby 9-4 and thrashed Shaun Murphy 6-0 before seeing off Gilbert in the final.
After winning the 2012 Shanghai Masters, Higgins went over two years without a ranking title success.
But this year the world No 12 has rediscovered a winning formula, winning the Welsh Open in February and the Australian Goldfields Open in July.
“I think this has actually been the best I have ever played continually throughout a whole tournament,” said Higgins of his China success.
“I only played one bad mini-session against Michael Holt.
“The way I played against Murphy and Selby – I can’t play much better than that.
“I’ve had spells in my career where I have not won a tournament for three or four years, then I’ve had bursts where I have won a few.
“I’m very pleased to have won three this year, it’s a great achievement given how many great players are out there.
“My next goal is to win another world title. If I can produce that sort of form I’ll have a good chance at Sheffield.”
Before that is York and the UK Championship where Higgins faces a first-round meeting with 39-year-old Leo Fernandez.
Yorkshire is well represented at the Barbican with 10 county players involved in the first-round draw, plus several overseas players – like China’s Ding Junhui – who have adopted Sheffield as their home.
There is an all-Sheffield first-round meeting between Ding and 26-year-old Adam Duffy in York.
Joel Walker, 21, could set-up another Steel City match after he can get beyond his first-round meeting with Joe Swail.
The world No 84 reached the third round in York last 12 months ago, before bowing out to Stuart Bingham in the deciding frame.
York amateur Ashley Hugill, 21, faces a dream debut when he opens up against former world champion Murphy on Wednesday, November 25.
The Leeds quartet of father-and-son Peter and Oliver Lines, David Grace and Sanderson Lam are also competing.
Dad Peter – the 45-year-old who enjoyed a career-best quarter-final spot at the UK Championship in 2009 – has a tough test against Anthony Hamilton while 20-year-old rising star Oliver faces Cao Yupeng. Lam, 21, comes up against Jamie Burnett and it’s Andrew Higginson for former English amateur champion Grace, 30.
Doncaster’s Ian Glover, 36, takes on Jamie Jones, Keighley’s Chris Melling - the 36-year-old is a former world No 1 at pool - plays Dechawat Poomjaeng and Pickering’s Paul S Davison, 44, faces Karen Wilson.
Elsewhere, World champion Bingham will face Northern Ireland amateur Jordan Brown in the first round.
World No 1 Selby will be up against fellow Leicester cueman Joe O’Connor.
Judd Trump, the 2011 UK Champion, meets Hammad Miah while legend Jimmy White will face Stephen Maguire.
All matches are best of 11 frames, up until the final which is best of 19.
Tickets for the final session on December 6 have already sold out.
Prices start at just £6, for more information call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets