Higgins celebrates the title with wife Denise and son Pierce
John Higgins won the BetVictor Welsh Open for a record fourth time by beating Ben Woollaston 9-3 in a one-sided final in Cardiff.
Higgins has won an array of trophies over his glittering career but this one will mean more to him than most, as he had not captured a ranking title since the 2012 Shanghai Masters, 29 months ago, and had spells when he wondered whether he would ever taste such success again.
But after showing signs of vintage form throughout a seven-match winning streak this week at the Motorpoint Arena, Higgins has improved his career tally of ranking titles to 26, just behind Ronnie O’Sullivan (27) and Steve Davis (28) – though Stephen Hendry’s record of 36 is surely out of range.
Wizard of Wishaw Higgins can at least claim one record ahead of Hendry and O’Sullivan, as the trio had previously been tied on three Welsh Open titles apiece.
He also goes back to Scotland with the £60,000 top prize after out-playing underdog Woollaston in the final. In fact the contest was close in the early stages, but Higgins won a crucial final frame of the opening session and never looked back.
Undoubtedly one of snooker’s all-time greats, Higgins is aged 39 and feared over the past two years that his best days were behind him. He has had to take a back seat while O’Sullivan – born in the same year – has shown arguably the best form of his career, while younger guns like Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui have shared most of the trophies. Higgins even looked in danger of dropping out of the top 16 before this week, but has surely now secured his place among the elite for the rest of the season, and if he maintains his current standard he will going into the World Championship with high hopes of matching O’Sullivan’s tally of five Crucible crowns.
Woollaston has enjoyed the best week of his snooker career as he had never previously been beyond the quarter-finals of a ranking event. The 27-year-old from Leicester claimed some major scalps on his way to the final, including Mark Allen, Ali Carter and Mark Williams, and has shown that he has the potential to succeed at the top level. The world number 36, whose only professional title came at a Players Tour Championship event in 2011, will enjoy his biggest pay-day of £30,000.
Higgins led 5-3 after the first session and soon extended his lead tonight, dominating the opening frame with a top break of 46. The next was a scrappy affair lasting 29 minutes and it came down to the last red. Higgins, leading 46-34, laid a clever snooker on the red, and although Woollaston hit it, he left his opponent the chance to clear for 7-3.
That ended Woollaston’s resistance as Higgins sailed through the last two frames with top breaks of 68 and 83.
“In the last two years I didn’t think it could happen again,” said Higgins, who was joined in the arena by wife Denise and eldest son Pierce as he celebrated with the trophy. “I’m delighted. Nothing went right for Ben today. The biggest frame of the match was the eighth when I fluked the green. If it had been 4-4 it might have been different tonight.
“Ben has had some great wins this week, and because I haven’t been playing that well I knew I could fall at any hurdle. He has been playing at a very high level all week. So that kept my feet on the ground right up until potting the winning ball. I was just trying to stay focussed and not give him any easy chances.
“Overall I’ve played some good matches this week, and when I haven’t played well I have dug in and kept going. To be sitting here with a trophy is a great feeling. This gives me a lot of confidence that I can compete with the top players.
“The doubts over the past couple of years were really deep. I was thinking far too much and not putting enough work in. I was trying different things with my technique instead of just going back to basics and potting balls. It was snow-balling and I was just scratching, trying to find something. Over the last couple of months it has felt better, so to be here this week and to feel as if my game is back and my technique is there is brilliant.
“I have to say thanks to Raymond Cohen from Exquisite Cues in Scotland. He has made me a few cues over the past couple of years and I was chopping and changing. But he managed to make one at the start of this year which was just like my old cue in terms of the weight, length and thickness of butt. When I was tinkering about he’d get a sore head and crack up at me. He wanted to help me and he knew I shouldn’t have been tinkering that much.”
Higgins at the table
Woollaston said: “It has been an amazing week. I’m disappointed about the final, but in an hour or two I’ll realise what I have achieved. Hopefully this will give me the confidence to get to more finals. I’ve had some big wins this week and played some good snooker. The money is a massive help to me.
“The eighth frame was important. John fluked the green but I should have won the frame before that by making a big break. Tonight I missed a few balls and when I got a chance, everything seemed to go wrong. John got away with a few shots all day. But his safety was so good, a lot of the time I didn’t know what to do. I’ve always believed I belong with these players, but maybe not in the TV stages of ranking events – until now.”