John Higgins celebrated his 30th ranking title with a fifth at the Welsh Open, continuing his dominance in recent years.
Higgins won his first Welsh Open trophy 18 years ago but has since been crowned champion in four of the last nine events and he looked truly at home with a dominant week in Cardiff.
Big names tumble
The Scotsman set about retaining the title he last won three years ago with a 4-2 victory over Matthew Selt in the first round. The opening contest of a tournament has proved challenging for many players this year and Shaun Murphy departed to a whitewash by Gerard Greene whilst Ryan Day lost to number 119 seed Kurt Dunham.
The second round was an even greater stumbling block for a number of top 16 players. World champion Mark Selby and Anthony McGill lost deciders to Liang Wenbo and Ben Woollaston respectively, as did Ali Carter who was stunned by number 118 seed Nigel Bond. Neil Robertson made three centuries but still lost by the same 4-3 scoreline against number 99 Ian Burns, whilst Judd Trump, Luca Brecel and Ding Junhui were all hammered 4-1. Trump's opponent, Noppon Saengkham, used his win to propel him into great form for the week.
Yet Higgins was not disturbed as he beat the tricky Stephen Maguire before dismissing Sam Craigie, dropping just one frame in the process. As 2015 Crucible victor and defending champion Stuart Bingham was joined by Mark Williams and Mark Allen on the way home, Higgins was one of only three top ten seeds to make the last 16.
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Higgins marches on
The trio of top players, including Ronnie O'Sullivan and Barry Hawkins, all comfortably progress into the quarter-finals as Higgins whitewashed Nigel Bond, producing the highest break of the competition with a 144 in the process. Saengkham continued his great form as he thrashed Kyren Wilson 4-0.
Only two top ten players were guaranteed a semi-final berth and Higgins was determined not to miss out. Playing arguably the form player on the circuit, the veteran defeated his old adversary O'Sullivan with a commanding 5-1 victory.
The number six seed continued to look comfortable in the final four, seeing off Gary Wilson 6-2 and going into the final with a 27-6 record across six matches. His opponent was to be Hawkins although Saengkham pushed the number nine seed to a narrow victory in the Thai player's first ranking semi-final, despite falling 3-1 and 5-2 behind.
Hawkins contributes to a high-quality final
Yet Higgins was made to work for the first time all week as he approached his 30th ranking title. The pair went into the afternoon session interval locked at 2-2 with Higgins making breaks of 138 and 141 but Hawkins stealing two frames by less than 11 points.
It was still all square at the end of the first session as Hawkins took his chance to make a high score, contributing a 130 whilst Higgins made two more half-centuries of his own.
The Scotsman won the last two frames of that session and then opened the evening with two more as he turned a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead. Yet Hawkins was not flustered and soon drew level again with breaks of 103 and 138.
The last eight frames had been won in pairs and Higgins stole another two as he restored his cushion. A break of 82 for Hawkins suggested the comeback could be on again but Higgins secured his record crown without the need for a decider as a 64 break propelled him to a 9-7 victory.