The Cazoo Players Championship has become well established as one of the World Snooker Tour’s elite events, with only the best players of the season standing a chance of clinching a coveted place. High calibre fields have produced some iconic moments over the years.
Just the top 16 players on this season’s one-year list have earned a place in Wolverhampton for next week’s event, which runs from 7th to 13th February in Wolverhampton. Such is the cutthroat nature of qualification, 2021 World Championship finalists Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy have failed to earn a spot in the 2022 field.
To whet your appetite for next week, here is a look back at the last five Players Championship finals…
2017 – Judd Trump 10-8 Marco Fu
Judd Trump won a hard fought title match with Hong Kong’s Marco Fu to secure the seventh ranking title of his career.
Following victory at the European Masters earlier in the campaign, the Players Championship win in Llandudno marked the first time the Ace in the Pack had landed multiple ranking crowns in the same season.
It was also only Englishman Trump’s second win on home soil, following his breakthrough Triple Crown title at the 2011 UK Championship. Trump’s progression in the subsequent five years can be highlighted by the fact he has added 14 further ranking event wins to his resume.
Fu had already enjoyed a strong season to that point, having captured the third ranking title of his career at the Scottish Open and made two further semi-finals.
Unfortunately, in recent years Fu has struggled both with eye problems and being unable to travel to the United Kingdom due to coronavirus restrictions. The match remains his most recent trip to a ranking final.
It was Fu who made much of the early running in this encounter to open up a 5-2 advantage. However, Trump turned the game on its head by winning six on the bounce to lead 8-5. Fu battled back into contention at 8-7, but Trump did enough to get over the line and land the win.
Trump said: “It’s a great feeling, especially in this competition. It’s the 16 best players of the season. To win this one is probably up there with the UK Championship. This tournament has a lot of prestige and I’m delighted to have won.
“I was kind of gone in the afternoon session and missing everything. I managed from somewhere to make those two centuries and get back into the game. It was a little bit different tonight.”
2018 – Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-4 Shaun Murphy
Ronnie O’Sullivan scored his fifth ranking event win of the season by defeating Shaun Murphy in a one-sided final.
The Rocket had already landed silverware at the English Open, Shanghai Masters, UK Championship and the World Grand Prix. At the time it equalled the record for most ranking wins in a single season, but Judd Trump has since bettered that with his six in 19/20.
The loss for Murphy meant he was runner-up in all four of the ranking finals he contested during the season, including the UK Championship where he lost 10-5 to O’Sullivan. However, he did win the invitational Champion of Champions with a 10-8 defeat of O’Sullivan.
Victory for O’Sullivan saw him move to 33 ranking event titles, just three short of Stephen Hendry’s record of 36. Just four years later the legendary Essex cueman now has 37 ranking event wins and has surpassed 1,000 career centuries.
When asked about the prospect of achieving both of those milestones, O’Sullivan responded: “I think it is well achievable to beat it. I always thought that record was more realistic for me than the world titles (he has five to Hendry’s seven). There are still a few records to go for. I think I will pass on winning seven or eight world titles. To get to 1,000 centuries would be a good one and to win 37 ranking events would be nice.
On the match, O’Sullivan said: “Shaun didn’t play as well today as he did in the semi-finals which was a shame for the final. I kept the pressure on and played decent snooker. In a lot of the frames he got in first but he kept breaking down on 40 or 50 and I made some good clearances. I did what I had to do although I didn’t have my scoring boots on. I feel quite drained because I put a lot of effort into the match.
“I have played better in other seasons but not won as many titles. I am pacing myself in terms of which tournaments I play in and travel to, and I have cut down on practice in order to just play when I feel like it. It seems to be working at the moment.”
2019 – Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-4 Neil Robertson
Ronnie O’Sullivan achieved a significant milestone in his extraordinary career by making his 1,000th century in the last frame of a 10-4 victory over Neil Robertson to take home the title.
Ever the showman, O’Sullivan made his milestone break at the perfect moment, to seal the title at Preston’s iconic Guild Hall venue. A packed crowd cheered every shot as he became the first player to make 1,000 career tons.
It had been a remarkable few months for O’Sullivan; in December 2018 he won his seventh UK Championship title and 19th Triple Crown event, beating records set by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
This was O’Sullivan’s 50th ranking final, the first coming 26 years ago at the same venue when he beat Hendry in the final of the UK Championship at the age of just 17.
The historic break in the final frame was a run of 134, which would have been a total clearance of 141 had he not gone in off on the final black. The two players laughed as Robertson informed his opponent that the in-off had cost him the tournament-high break prize of £5,000 as it would have beaten Robertson’s mark of 140.
“I knew I had to play well today,” said O’Sullivan. “I have played well all week and played brilliantly today. To cap it off with the 1,000th century was great. I was pleased to do it against Neil because he’s probably the nicest human being on the circuit. There’s no player I’d rather share that moment with other than Ding Junhui or Liang Wenbo.
“This is one of the best venues we get to play at, I love playing here. Since I was seven or eight I have just potted snooker balls, I love the game. To share this with the fans here and around the world – Preston is lucky that it was here tonight but it’s for the fans everywhere.”
2020 – Judd Trump 10-4 Yan Bingtao
This event ultimately proved to be the last in the United Kingdom before the country was plunged into lockdown by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, fans and players alike were unaware of how their lives were about to change when Judd Trump put the finishing touches on a comprehensive defeat of Yan Bingtao in the title match.
It was Trump’s fifth tournament victory of the six he registered that season. He would go on to secure his record breaking win at the Gibraltar Open.
For Yan it was his second final of the season, having already claimed maiden ranking silverware at the 2019 Riga Masters. He would go on to secure a momentous maiden Triple Crown victory at the Masters just under a year later.
Having trailed 6-2 after the first session, Yan fired back into contention by taking the ninth and tenth frames to make it 6-4. However, Trump blitzed to the line from there. Breaks of 108, 68 and 60 helped him to four frames in a row, which secured the 10-4 victory.
Trump said: “I have put myself in a good position to make it six ranking titles in a season. I have three opportunities now to go one further and hold the record on my own. I just have to take it one step at a time. There are some major events left to come and if I can have a few runs I will be pleased.
“Yan is more tactical than me. A lot of the frames were going a bit slow. I just tried to speed him up and go for a few shots. It was hard to get momentum. There were spells where I played ok. I missed a few too many easy balls for my liking. In the future he is going to be a tough player to beat, so it is nice to get the wins against him while he is still young.”
2021 – John Higgins 10-3 Ronnie O’Sullivan
John Higgins capped off one of the best tournament wins of his prestigious career, by thrashing age old rival Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Remarkably, Higgins won the tournament for the loss of just four frames, having beaten Jordan Brown 6-0, Mark Selby 6-0 and Kyren Wilson 6-1 in his first three matches in Milton Keynes.
The burst of top form was brought about by a change in technique for the Scot, who moved his cue tip closer to the white ball at address. It worked a treat for Higgins in this encounter, as he made three centuries and five more breaks over 50 on the way to capturing his 31st ranking title.
O’Sullivan would go on to also lose to Neil Robertson in the Cazoo Tour Championship final. That meant he remarkably fell short in all five ranking finals he contested in the season. O’Sullivan was also beaten by Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open, Mark Selby at the Scottish Open, Jordan Brown at the Welsh Open.
“It’s the best week of my snooker career,” said Higgins. “I have won bigger tournaments, but in terms of the way I have played and felt the whole week, it’s my best ever. I’m delighted.
“It’s easy to get into bad habits in this game and I don’t have a coach. I am just glad I have rectified the technique issue I had, and I will stick with the change I have made. To win a big tournament like this guarantees me the chance to keep competing against the top players for at least the next couple of years.
“I was in the zone tonight, I would have loved to play more frames. I was enjoying it, especially against an opponent like Ronnie. In the first session he went for a lot of balls, and that put me off a bit. He obviously fancied it, the way he was playing. To lead 6-2 was brilliant, and I played well again tonight.”