Friday sees the start of the inaugural Dafabet Gibraltar Open, the fifth event of the 2015/16 Kreativ Dental European Tour.
With just one more European Tour event to follow after this tournament, the race for positions on the European Order of Merit is approaching its most critical phase and so today I will pick out a few of the most interesting themes to follow between now and Sunday evening.
- Click here to view the draw for the Dafabet Gibraltar Open
- Click here to view the Kreativ Dental European Order of Merit after four events
Players Championship Race
The top 24 players on the European Order of Merit following the Gdynia Open in February will qualify to play at the Players Championship event a month later.
While players such as Barry Hawkins and Ali Carter are already assured of qualification thanks to event wins earlier in the campaign, there are a number of big names with work still to do if they are to make it to Manchester.
Last season the lowest placed qualifiers for the Players Championship were Dominic Dale and John Higgins, who both earned £6,583 from the six Kreativ Dental European Tour events staged. With prize money slightly down this year due to changes in the exchange rate, it may be that a lower total will be sufficient in 2015/16.
Amongst those currently struggling to qualify is reigning world champion Stuart Bingham, who currently sits in 64th position on the Order of Merit having earned just £1,425 from four events so far. That said, he is doing better than recent Betway UK Championship winner Neil Robertson, who has withdrawn from this weekend’s event and so must reach at least the final of next year’s Gdynia Open if he is to qualify.
Having not entered a European Tour event so far this term, few will be surprised to see that Ronnie O’Sullivan is another currently set to miss out on a place in Manchester, while two-time ranking event winner this season John Higgins is also out of position heading into Gdynia, down in 41st position on £2,625.
Other top 16 players currently outside of the top 24 on the European Order of Merit include Joe Perry, Ricky Walden, Marco Fu and Stephen Maguire, who will all be targeting a deep run in Gibraltar.
There is however better news for world number one Mark Selby and Paul Hunter Classic runner-up Shaun Murphy, who are both currently in position to qualify. They are joined by Judd Trump, Mark Allen, Mark Williams and Liang Wenbo, the latter however currently on the brink of missing out in 24th position exactly.
Ding Junhui will make his first appearance of the season at a European Tour event this weekend and has already secured £525 by virtue of his first round walkover against Shaun Murphy. Of course for China’s number one however there is less pressure on his shoulders in Gibraltar as he has already qualified for the Players Championship by winning this season’s first Asian Tour event in China.
With players from across the rankings still well in contention to qualify for the Players Championship with a good run either this weekend or in Gdynia, there is still much to play for in this battle…
As during recent seasons, the top eight players on the final Kreativ Dental Order of Merit who are not ranked inside the top 64 on the official world ranking list at the end of the season, will earn a fresh two-year tour card from the start of next season.
At present, these eight players are:
- Stuart Carrington – £5,250
- Ian Burns – £3,525
- Thor Cheon Leong – £3,300
- Hammad Miah (a) – £2,700
- Aditya Mehta – £2,475
- Lee Walker – £2,325
- Scott Donaldson – £2,250
- Mitchell Mann – £1,950
Although Stuart Carrington is currently ranked within the world’s top 64, he is included as on the provisional end of season ranking list (not including points earned during the 2013/14 season, at the time of writing he is forecast to finish outside of that important bracket.
Last season, James Cahill was able to claim the eighth and final tour card from this list with just £2,583 but even with the slightly reduced prize money this season, it looks as though a higher total will be required this time around.
I would suggest that certainly Carrington looks safe already and I would be surprised to see either Ian Burns or Thor Cheon Leong miss out, but otherwise all will be hoping to string a few wins together in Gibralatar.
Other players to keep an eye on in this battle include Gerard Greene, who is 64th exactly on the provisional end of season list and tied with Mitchell Mann on the Kreativ Dental European Order of Merit, so is on the borderline on both lists.
Joel Walker and Michael Leslie are the next two players within striking distance of Mann and realistically needing to break into that top eight on the European list, with Zak Surety, Chris Melling and Peter Lines amongst those further back.
It is also worth noting that Bulgarian Open semi-finalist Sam Baird is currently not included in the top eight above, as he is provisionally set to end the season 61st on the official ranking list. He could yet however slip out of the top 64 by the end of the season, meaning that he would likely claim one of the eight tour cards through this route and leave some of the names above with an even harder task.
As we have seen in recent years, for these second year professionals who are struggling to break into the top 64, every win on the Kreativ Dental European Tour is potentially crucial and there are usually at least one or two players who make a move during the final couple of events.
For all of the latest scores and news from Gibraltar, please visit worldsnooker.com.