The Wyldecrest Park Homes Players Championship finals are the culmination of 12 tournaments played in the UK, Europe and China. 32 players have made the cut and head this week to the Preston Guild Hall, a venue steeped in snooker history, to do battle for the £100,000 top prize.
The European Tour and Asian Tour events were well subscribed and most of snooker’s big names have qualified, making this year’s grand finals the best in terms of quality of the four which have been staged so far.
Preston stepped in because Bangkok, Thailand has been suffering from civil unrest (as snooker was for 30 years, come to think of it).
These tournaments aren’t known as PTCs any more, even though that’s what everyone still calls them. ‘PTC’ has itself become almost a term of abuse, used to describe a set-up that is multi-table, busy and not a lot of fun.
Yes, Barry Hearn certainly has some front, giving players who were complaining of no playing opportunities the chance to play more, get their confidence up, win trophies, earn money and accrue ranking points.
Money has steadily built up in these events. It may not be as high as players would like but that’s the fault of regimes past, and of those who supported them.
The UK PTCs (even though they aren’t called PTCs) have gone by the wayside, understandably because they weren’t televised and so had little commercial value. There is hope that the European ones can be built up into bigger events but this will be difficult.
Crowds in continental Europe may be strong but sponsorship isn’t. The two look like they should go together, but they don’t always.
The only significant area for sponsorship in snooker is China, where major financial institutions pump money into the game. Anyone who complains about China and its influence should consider where the professional circuit would be without its annual £2.5m.
Answer: playing for far less money in far fewer tournaments, and we’ve been there before.
The Players Championship finals are seeded based on the orders of merit, not the world ranking list, leading to some intriguing first round ties.
The standout match is Shaun Murphy v Neil Robertson, an encounter which could be the final in any tournament.
You won’t hear Murphy whinging about PTCs (yes, still calling them that). It was winning the last European Tour event in Gdynia which gave him the huge boost of confidence he’d been looking for and he duly went on to capture the World Open earlier this month, his first ranking title in three years.
Robertson’s form hasn’t been as strong in the second half of the season as it was in the first. But with the World Championship less than four weeks away, it may not be such a bad thing not to be going so deep in tournaments, with stamina a must for Sheffield.
Stephen Maguire and Barry Hawkins, two more top 16 players, also clash in the opening round.
Everything seems to be falling into Ronnie O’Sullivan’s lap at the moment and the fact the finals are in Preston have worked out well. He said at the Welsh Open that he wouldn’t have gone to Thailand.
O’Sullivan, in dream form this season in the events he’s played in, faces young Scottish pro Scott Donaldson.
Judd Trump will play the only amateur in the field, Ju Reti, who won Asian Tour event 2.
Ju grew up on a farm, a long way from snooker clubs and certainly without the advantages the British players have enjoyed. Good luck to him, although in an alien environment and against Trump, he may need it.
All matches are best of seven to give the whole event continuity. Some would prefer a long final. Last year’s was great because it went the distance, with Ding Junhui beating Robertson, but a 4-0 in 45 minutes would seem a bit of an anti-climax.
But mild grumbles aside, this promises to be a very enjoyable week. The Players Championship has done as advertised: created more tournaments, more matches and more winners. For those who have produced the goods, the finals is the reward.
The Players Championship finals are live all week on Eurosport.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.