Snooker: Two outstanding candidates for Masters glory

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SNOOKER analyst Ed Acteson (@EdActeson) runs the rule over the upcoming Masters, picking out his favourite outright fancies.

The Masters | 15-22 January 2017 | BBC

With 16 Triple Crown titles to his name, it should come as no surprise that many consider Ronnie O’Sullivan to be the greatest player of all-time.

The defending champion enters this year’s Masters tournament as 3/1 (Marathon) favourite, having won the event six times in total, including twice in the last three years.

It is strange then that I can’t escape the nagging suspicion that there isn’t a player or team in world sport as continually overrated by the betting industry as The Rocket has been recently.

Stay clear of ‘Rocket’ Ronnie

The cold, hard statistics are that he is winning 5% less matches than last season, his points scored to conceded ratio has dropped from 1.64:1 to 1.48:1 and, as a result, he has failed to win his last his last 10 consecutive tournaments.

The average world ranking of his 10 conquerors in that time is 15, significantly below that of the four hardest opponents he might face in this event who would rank 1st, 3rd, 7th and 11th.

Yet odds of 3/1 imply an average match price of around 2/5, or 71%, on him winning. Something doesn’t add up to me and I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.

Robbo to discover his old magic

In fact I want to take him on by betting against him winning the first quarter and supporting another out of form prestige player in Neil Robertson (7/2 Sportingbet).

Robertson has endured a torrid time recently and finished 2016 by failing to make it past the round of 16 in six consecutive tournaments. As such, his outright price has drifted to the extent that he is now 12/1 (Coral) sixth favourite for the tournament, an astonishing decline.

While Ronnie is suffering from a combination of age and waning enthusiasm, Robertson’s dip is surely temporary and he has showed signs of life in recent Championship League outings when he managed to top two consecutive groups.

In addition to confidence, this should give him a match practice edge over most of the other top players who haven’t played a competitive shot since the Scottish Open in mid-December.

It isn’t enough to convince me to take his outright price but I feel the 7/2 on Robbo rediscovering enough of the old magic to find a way past Ali Carter and O’Sullivan or Liang Wenbo is a sufficiently tantalising price.

Two outstanding outright candidates

In terms of the actual outright, there remain two outstanding candidates for me, and they are predictable choices in Mark Selby (4/1 888) and John Higgins (10/1 888).

Selby is, by some distance in my opinion, the best player in the world now.

He is already a 7-time major winner and currently holds the UK Championship and World Championship titles, I can’t back against him completing the set here and establishing himself as one of the true greats of the game.

His price is finally beginning to shorten for these tournaments but, as he rests in the easier half of the draw and avoids the likes of Ronnie, Robertson, Trump or Higgins until the final, 4/1 is still very backable here.

Higgins has been in sensational form, winning the China Championship and Champion of Champions events back to back, finishing runner up in December’s Scottish Open and only losing out in the quarter-finals of the UK Championships to eventual champion Mark Selby in a match-up that was worthy of the final.

He is in the trickier half but it will take a huge downturn in his form or upturn in someone else’s for him to be stopped from reaching another final at least and at 10/1 he needs to be backed, especially considering he is as short as 6s elsewhere.

Name the finalists

Both Higgins and Selby have been so far clear of the rest of the field recently that I feel it would be churlish not to supplement their outright bets with a small punt on them meeting in the final in the ‘name the finalists’ market (14/1 William Hill).

At least one of them has appeared in seven out of the last 10 finals, including five from the last six, and I think the draw is weighted nicely to facilitate them doing battle this time round.

Best Bets

The Masters – Mark Selby to win outright (4/1 888)

The Masters – John Higgins to win outright (10/1 each-way 888)

The Masters – Neil Robertson to win the first quarter (7/2 Sportingbet)

The Masters – Mark Selby v John Higgins final (14/1 William Hill)

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