The world number one ranking could change hands for the first time in over four years following the Coral Tour Championship this week in Llandudno.
For over four years since his victory at the 2015 German Masters Mark Selby has maintained a vice-like grip on top spot, his sensational five-title haul during the 2016/17 season having underlined his position as the best player in the world.
Two years on however and with the prize money earned during the course of that season now falling from his ranking total, combined with the impressive form shown by both Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, who between them have won no fewer than 11 ranking titles since the 2017 English Open, the gap has been eroded and there is a real possibility that the top ranking will now change hands between now and the end of the season.
As the top eight players on this season’s one-year ranking list head to Llandudno for the all-new Tour Championship this week, Selby carries a lead of £71,725 to O’Sullivan, with a possible £150,000 to be won. With both already assured of bagging £20,000 even with a first-round exit, there could be as much as a £130,000 swing between the pair.
Crucially, this means that the destiny of the number one ranking is in O’Sullivan’s own hands, as even if Selby were to earn £60,000 by reaching the final (taking his rolling total to £1,222,225), his lead to O’Sullivan would be ‘only’ £131,725 – not enough to put him out of reach if the five-time world champion were to lift the trophy on Sunday evening.
If O’Sullivan were to reclaim top spot it represent the first time he would have held top spot since the end of the 2009/10 season and the first since the rankings switched to a rolling, prize-money based system.
As well as the top two, reigning world champion Mark Williams is another player in the running to become world number one over the coming weeks, however he is not quite close enough to do so this week in Llandudno even if he were to claim the title on home soil.
While nothing less for the title will do for O’Sullivan in Llandudno, there could be a further opportunity for him to claim top spot a week later depending on results at the China Open in Beijing – even though he will not be playing in the event.
This is because the final of that event in 2017 was contested between his two closest ranking rivals Selby and Williams, with the Jester from Leicester taking the top prize of £85,000 which will now drop from his total next month.
Therefore if O’Sullivan were to reach the final of the Tour Championship, with Selby losing in the first round for example, this would leave O’Sullivan £31,725 behind heading to the China Open, but with Selby having £78,500 more to be removed from his tally (O’Sullivan reached the last 32 in 2017) and Williams also potentially within range.
Further analysis will follow prior to both the China Open and World Championship events.
Follow our Matt Huart (@ProSnookerBlog) and @WPBSAofficial on Twitter for regular updates during the coming weeks.