Top two seeds Selby and Ding both lost before the last 32 stage and fifth seed Murphy stood on the brink of defeat against Highfield several times but eventually managed to make it through to a third round meeting with Jimmy Robertson.
Breaks of 50, 96 and 80 helped Murphy go 4-2 ahead then world number 69 Highfield took the next three frames to go 5-4 up. The Stoke cueman had chances to seal victory in frame ten but couldn’t take them and lost a safety battle on the final black as Murphy made it 5-5.
A tense 37-minute decider came down to the colours. Highfield ran out of position in potting the last red, and after a bout of safety had another chance but missed a tricky thin cut on the yellow. Murphy took yellow, green and brown which proved enough to get him over the winning line.
“It’s amazing how difficult simple decision making becomes under pressure,” said 2008 UK Champion Murphy. “It’s absolutely horrendous and of course that’s what sport is about and that’s why we all love it.
“It’s difficult to be over elated when I made the mistakes I made in that match and won. Really, I know I need to look myself in the mirror tonight – if I’ve got any dreams of winning this tournament I will have to up my standard significantly. It’s back to the practice table. But you can’t win the tournament by sitting at home, you have to be here.”
O’Sullivan is chasing his third ranking title of the season
Ronnie O’Sullivan had a far smoother passage to the third round as he beat Michael Georgiou 6-1 with top breaks of 57, 69, 68 and 82. The five-time UK Champion now plays Michael White or Matthew Selt.
“I’m happy to be through, it’s great to have an opportunity to play another match in this great tournament,” said the Rocket. “Michael can play better than that, so I was a little bit surprised how he struggled.”
O’Sullivan was asked whether he would one day be prepared to appear in the ITV show I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here and he replied:
“Definitely. I was watching the jungle and thought ‘wow, I need to have a go at that.’ You get a chance to go to Australia, get the family out there for a nice little holiday. I am coming round to the idea of it if the price is right. Count me in.
“Amir Khan has been fantastic in the jungle. I love him, and Dennis Wise has been great too. I get approached all the time to do these shows.”
Luca Brecel made breaks of 107 and 114 in the last two frames of a 6-3 win over Aditya Mehta. Jimmy Robertson came from 5-3 down to beat Alan McManus 6-5, winning the deciding frame by clearing from yellow to pink.
Ricky Walden came from 4-2 and 5-4 down to edge out Jamie Jones 6-5 while Kyren Wilson saw off Yu Delu 6-4. Northern Ireland Open finalist Yan Bingtao kept his fine form going as he beat Ben Woollaston 6-1 with a top run of 134.