The final of the Dafabet Masters on Sunday marked not only the end of snooker’s biggest invitational tournament for another year, but also the start of a three month countdown to this season’s World Championship, which gets underway on 18th April 2015 at the Crucible Theatre.
With several full ranking events still to be staged before we return to Sheffield however, there remains a significant amount of prize money still to be won and therefore the possibility of potentially significant movements in the ranking list by that point.
Why is this important?
It has of course always been important for players to be ranked up inside the world’s top 16 ahead of the World Championship, with those players seeded through to the Crucible stage automatically, without the need to come through a qualifying match.
For 2015 however, that importance is magnified by the change to the qualifying structure for the event, meaning that every player from 17th place must win three qualifying matches at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge venue to qualify for the event.
This is in contrast to the previous system, under which those who narrowly missed out on an automatic spot had to win only one match to make it to the venue.
There is a lot of snooker to be played between now and then, with five full ranking events amongst the tournaments to be played, but what can we say at this early stage?
The cut-off date
The first important point to note is that under the current ranking system explained within my previous blog, the seedings for the World Championship will be determined in accordance with the world ranking list published following the 2015 China Open.
This means that although the current ranking list is a useful guide, each player in the ranking list has a different amount of money to be removed from their total between now and that time, as well as the money that will be added in the coming weeks.
In the mix
This being the case, the players immediately in the running when taking a look at the latest provisional list up to the China Open, are as follows:
14 – John Higgins – £185,583
15 – Stephen Maguire – £167,799
16 – Robert Milkins – £162,827
17 – Mark Williams – £160,233
18 – Graeme Dott – £154,916
19 – Mark Davis – £145,902
20 – Xiao Guodong – £140,132
21 – Ryan Day – £134,671
When we compare the above to the official ranking list published after the Lisbon Open, the first thing that becomes apparent is that Stephen Maguire is provisionally safe by only £7,566, compared to the considerably larger gap of £69,653 as of today.
This is because of the fact that monies earned at events such as the 2013 Welsh Open (which Stephen won), as well as that year’s China Open where he made it through to the semi-finals, will no longer count at the cut-off for the World Championship.
Clearly then, Maguire needs a strong finish to the season if he is to avoid having to win three matches to qualify for the Crucible, but in fact he is far better placed than prior to his run at to the semi-finals of the recent Coral UK Championship and victory in Lisbon, results which were enough to lift him back into the provisional top 16 from being down in the high 20’s in November.
It is also notable that another Scot, 2006 world champion Graeme Dott drops two places to 18th, while Robert Milkins and Mark Williams are separated by less than £3,000 in the immediate race for the final qualifying spot.
In contrast to the official ranking list, the position of two-time finalist Matthew Stevens is somewhat worse than it might appear, as the money earned following his run to the final of the 2013 World Open is set to be removed from his total prior to the Crucible cut-off.
The coming weeks
It will be interesting then to follow this race between now and the end of the season and most immediately, we can see that both Mark Williams and Graeme Dott have the opportunity to close the gap to Robert Milkins this week, as they are in action at the Xuzhou Open, while Milkins is not.
Both Milkins and Dott are also out of the upcoming Kreativ Dental Clinic German Masters following qualifying defeats in Wigan before Christmas, so there is an opportunity for Williams to gain further ground in Berlin next month and lift himself up into the all-important top 16 list for the Crucible cut-off.
Looking further ahead, another tournament that could also play an important part in this battle is the Players Championship Grand Finals, for which Milkins, Mark Davis and Stephen Maguire are guaranteed to qualify for thanks to their results on this season’s European Tour.
Both Dott and John Higgins though are currently set to miss out on the Grand Finals, unless they run deep at either the AT3 or ET6 events this season. For Williams, he is currently in position to qualify via the European Order of Merit, but is not yet safe heading to Gdynia next month and will be looking to secure his position in Poland.
No doubt that a lot will change over the coming months and you can keep track of all of the latest developments here at WPBSA.com as the weeks progress…