Playing the best snooker of his 29-year career, John Higgins hammered Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-3 in the final of the Cazoo Players Championship to win his first ranking title in three years.
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 final between two giants of the baize, who have clashed on the table 65 times in a rivalry spanning three decades, turned out to be a one-sided affair as Higgins made three centuries and five more breaks over 50 as he romped to the £125,000 top prize and captured his 31st ranking title.
A change to his technique, moving the cue tip closer to the white ball at address, has worked wonders for Higgins in recent weeks. The Scot was runner-up to Yan Bingtao at the Masters and has gone one better this week to land his first ranking crown since the 2018 Welsh Open. At the age of 45 and having been a pro since 1992, he insists he has never struck the ball more cleanly and with such control and confidence.
The result lifts him one place to fifth in the world rankings, and crucially boosts him from tenth to fourth on the one-year list and guarantees his place at the Cazoo Tour Championship at the end of March. He also earns a spot at the Champion of Champions later in the year. No doubt Higgins will already have one eye on the Crucible in the Spring; in this week’s form he will be a mighty force.
O’Sullivan made breaks of 82, 144 and 110 in the three frames he won
O’Sullivan misses out on a 38th ranking title and third Players Championship crown. He has now lost four finals since conquering the Crucible for a sixth time last August. He was beaten by Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open, Mark Selby at the Scottish Open, Jordan Brown at the BetVictor Welsh Open and now Higgins. In truth, no opponent could have lived with Higgins this week, so strong was he in every department.
Leading 6-2 after the first session, Higgins took the first frame tonight with a break 51, initiated by a tricky thin cut on a red to a baulk corner. O’Sullivan hit back with a break of 110, the fourth century of the match, but didn’t score a point in the next two frames as Higgins made 70 and 77 to lead 9-3 at the interval.
Fittingly, Higgins wrapped up the match in frame 13 with another century, a superb 127.
“It’s the best week of my snooker career,” said Higgins, who has now won 30 of his 65 matches with O’Sullivan, and triumphed in eight of their 18 finals. “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.
“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.
“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.
“Before Christmas, people wouldn’t have seen me as one of the favourites for the World Championship. I’ve got a chance now.”
O’Sullivan said: “I knew I would have to play very well today against John but in the end I got peppered by him, just as everyone else has this week. It’s great to see him back playing well, it’s good for snooker and I’m happy for him. What he has done on the table this week, you don’t see that very often. Hopefully the next time I get to a final it will be my day.”