Shaun Murphy and Matthew Stevens moved into the next stage of BetVictor Championship League Snooker at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.
Murphy, in his first outing since losing out to Mark Selby in the World Championship final, started out strongly with a century in his opening frame on the way to a 3-0 victory over Michael Collumb.
Jamie Jones was the nearest competitor to Murphy and he started out well with a 3-1 win against Chen Zifan. Jones was straight back out there and looked to be comfortable 2-0 up against Collumb but it was the Scotsman who fought back to snatch a point with a 2-2 draw.
Murphy began the evening session with his second three points of the day, this time against Chen where a break of 71 was the pick of the bunch in the first frame.
That result left Murphy on six points and only needing a point against Jones in their group decider, whilst Jones would need all three. Despite a stuttering start to the opening frames, it was Murphy who showed his experience to get the job done by winning the first two frames. Jones fought back to secure a 2-2 draw but it was Murphy who progressed.
Murphy said: “This is my 24th year as a professional. I am not sure where those 23 years on tour have gone. I feel a bit like a newbie, to be honest! In all seriousness, it’s a nice way to kick off the season and I’m thrilled to be into the next stage.
“I settled and played quite well. I played well throughout the day. I did have a lot of runs as well. Whatever that intangible quality is, I got away with a lot of mistakes today. Perhaps that was the difference.”
Group 15 on Table 2 was far less clear with Mark King, Andrew Pagett, and Ross Muir, all battling it out with Stevens for the top spot.
Stevens had back-to-back fixtures against Muir and Pagett to start the day where it was a mixed set of results. The Welshman beat Muir 3-1 but lost out to Pagett by the same scoreline to keep the group in the balance.
King opened the evening session with a draw against Muir to move temporarily top. Stevens’ last match came against King with both knowing a win would stand them in good stead.
An assured break of 91 opened things up for Stevens before King bit back with a break of 64 in the second to take things level. At that point it was Stevens who turned it on to take the next two frames and end any hopes of King topping the group.
There was still a wait on for Stevens though, Pagett ended Table 2 action for the day against Muir knowing a win could take him through, but he lost 3-1 to end up finishing bottom of Group 15.
There are two more days of first stage BetVictor Championship League Snooker action. Tomorrow sees Groups 30 and 11 take centre stage.
David Gilbert will lead Group 30 on Table 1 from 12 noon (UK time) and is live on FreeSports (UK), DAZN, Zhibo.tv (China) and Viaplay, with Table 2 live globally at Matchroom.Live. Full broadcast details can be found at https://championshipleaguesnooker.co.uk/watch/