The Dafabet Masters returns to the Alexandra Palace from 15-22 January 2017 and with just two ranking events to be played prior to the all-important December seeding cut-off, the field is now beginning to fall into place.
As has been the case for the past few seasons, the top 16 on the official world ranking list following the UK Championship will qualify to play at snooker’s most prestigious invitational event. This period therefore includes all prize money earned at ranking events from the 2014 Lisbon Open to the 2016 UK Championship in York.
Looking at the latest standings in the Race to the Masters, which includes only prize money from this period with the upcoming Northern Ireland Open and UK Championship to be played, the first point to note is that defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has been locked in at top spot, despite having significantly less prize money than those below him.
This is because as the 2016 winner, he is guaranteed to be top seed for the tournament and to be in the running for what would be a record seventh Dafabet Masters crown. As a result, if Ronnie O’Sullivan were to drop out of the top 16 on the official ranking list following December’s UK Championship (where he will be defending winner’s points from 2014), he will take the place of the player who finishes in 16th position.
Below O’Sullivan those as far down as Joe Perry in ninth position on the Race to the Masters look certain to make it to the Alexandra Palace, while Mark Allen and Liang Wenbo also look to be secure.
Almost £45,000 ahead of 17th position is 12th placed man Ali Carter, a lead which I would expect to be sufficient, although I am sure that he will be hoping to add at least a couple more victories over the next two events to make absolutely certain. Much the same can be said for 2016 finalist Barry Hawkins, who is around a further £9,000 back in 13th.
Looking most vulnerable however are Kyren Wilson, Marco Fu and Mark Williams, who from 14th-16th all remain within striking distance of closest challenger Ricky Walden. At first glance it might be surprising to see Walden outside of the top 16, but as explained within my recent review of the seeding list following the International Championship, he drops down the list following the loss of prize money from 2014.
With just over £10,000 to make up on Williams, Walden is far from out of the running, particularly with £70,000 on offer in Northern Ireland and a bumper £170,000 first prize available at the UK Championship in York. A little over £15,000 further behind come Anthony McGill and Martin Gould, with other potential chasers further back, but not yet out of contention.
The position will be somewhat clearer following the action in Northern Ireland, when we will know the latest standings heading to the Barbican Centre.