Masters snooker 2021: What are the all-time top 10 greatest Masters moments? O'Sullivan, Higgins
Why the Masters matters. Snooker's second most important event behind the World Championship will take place behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes between 10-17 January due to the pandemic, but do not expect it to lack drama. Ahead of its 47th staging, Desmond Kane picks out 10 of the most iconic moments in the history of the elite tournament involving the world's top 16.
Jimmy White presents Ronnie O'Sullivan with the Masters trophy after victory in the 2016 final.
1. Vintage O’Sullivan whitewashes Walden in less than an hour
An unsuspecting Walden ran into a Rocket on the rampage in the quarter-finals at the Alexandra Palace in 2014. Having just lifted his fourth and fifth world titles in 2012 and 2013 respectively, O’Sullivan was busier than the Ally Pally stands in flattening the great Waldo in front of 1500 ardent fans. Walden made a break of 38 in the first frame before witnessing O'Sullivan reach a snooker state of utopia in completing a rousing 6-0 victory in only 58 minutes.
Breaks of 79, 88, 72, 134, 77 and 56 saw O’Sullivan set a new record of 556 points without reply as he sprinted to victory against an opponent once dubbed the Marathon Man.
Describing O’Sullivan as unplayable, the then world number 11 commented: "That is the first time I have ever felt absolutely helpless on a snooker table.”
Snooker in 2020: O'Sullivan wins sixth world title and Trump shines
O'Sullivan progressed to lift the trophy with a 10-4 win against Mark Selby in the final, but his victory over Chester's Walden remains arguably the greatest individual performance of all time at the prestigious tournament.
I've had a great career, won some fantastic tournaments, I've won more than I expected I ever would and at this stage of my career it's nice to put performances in like that to show people what I'm capable of. It's nice for the fans, it's nice for the audiences on TV and I do feel a responsibility to try and offer entertainment for them.
Walden did little or nothing wrong to merit such treatment, but he quickly came to appreciate this was several levels higher than a 6-5 win over Barry Hawkins in the first round. It was out of his league, and in snooker parlance, out of this world.
The fans who were in attendance can say they were there that day. Which says enough. Snooker's very own JV (John Virgo) moment.
A session has never been more entertaining. It is perhaps fitting that such a performance was produced by the greatest player of all time.
Steve Davis with the 1997 Masters trophy.
Image credit: Eurosport
2. Davis reminds world of his enduring greatness
At the age of 39, Steve Davis – who had won the last of his six world titles in 1989 and second of his three Masters titles a year earlier – was fighting off the ravages of time and Stephen Hendry’s decade of domination when he somehow ploughed a furrow to the final of the 1997 Masters. His dust-up with Ronnie O’Sullivan, the standard bearer for a new generation and youngest winner of the tournament at the age of 19 two years earlier, saw a streaker invade the Wembley Conference Centre before O’Sullivan streaked 8-4 clear by winning the opening four frames of the evening session.
Davis looked doomed, but summoned up the courage of yesteryear as he strode gingerly around the table in mounting a comeback for the ages by winning the final six frames before a bewitched audience, who began rooting for the older bloke when they realised the recovery was on.
The man dubbed the Nugget restricted his 21-year-old opponent to only 123 points in the final six frames, mixing up knocks of 130, 64 and 56 with some teak-tough safety play and punishing scoring that had been the hallmark of his golden years a decade earlier to deliver his third and final Masters gong.
"Steve was like a machine, he was clinical. He was like Tiger Woods in golf when he came along," said O'Sullivan. "He was just different, and could boss and dominate the competition. I never really played Steve in his prime, but I did play him at the Masters in 1997.
"I remember he played six unbelievable frames against me when I didn't really see a ball after leading 8-4. I remember thinking: ‘I'm not sure I would have liked to have played him in the 1980s if that is how he played the game’. I'm glad I missed that one. I got John Higgins instead which was just as bad, but Davis was the ultimate professional. He was a machine.”
Mark Williams with his second Masters title in 2003.
Image credit: Eurosport
3. Williams masters tournament's finest black-ball finish
This was a bit like the Taylor-Davis 1985 world finale transported to London. Mark Williams trailed Stephen Hendry 5-2 and 9-7 in the 1998 Masters final yet somehow emerged a 10-9 winner by potting the final black at the Wembley Conference Centre. It was the only time he led in a match that denied Hendry the chance to collect his seventh Masters title.
Hendry would gain a measure of revenge with his 18-11 win over Williams in the World Championship final a year later that saw him snare a record seventh Crucible title in the modern era, but this one must have stung and then some having outscored his Welsh opponent for large swathes of the final with some controlled game management.
Williams scrambled superbly to force the decider before keeping his cool to extend the final to a re-spotted black.
A double attempt on the final ball narrowly failed to drop before a long pot wriggled in the jaws as the black fell tantalisingly over a middle pocket.
The only problem for Hendry was the white heading for the opposite cushion denying him full control of the cue ball as he confronted a slow roll across the nap of the table for victory.
A straight shot with such precision was a horrid shot as the white floated narrowly off line with the black rebounding off a jaw to set up Williams for an easy finish. He duly sunk the straight black before jumping in the air to the delight of the Wembley crowd.
Williams completed a 10-4 win over Hendry in the 2003 final to claim his second Masters title, but it was no match for this classic finish.
As history shows, Hendry would never come so close to seventh heaven in his 1990s pioneering pomp.
John Higgins and wife Denise celebrate in 2006.
Image credit: Allsport
4. Masterful Higgins at the double
For a champion regarded as one of the greatest figures to pick up a snooker cue, John Higgins has somewhat oddly toiled to produce his pristine best at the Masters despite winning the event twice in his gilded career, but his final against his fierce rival O’Sullivan at the Wembley Conference Centre in 2006, the final year of the tournament at its most feted venue after a 27-year stay, was something to behold.
A year after O’Sullivan had left Higgins waving a white flag at the top of his cue in a 10-3 drubbing, the 32nd Masters final was a corker between two men who remain at the apex of their sport 29 years after turning professional alongside Williams as the revered 'Class of '92'.
O’Sullivan had led 3-0 before Higgins recovered to lead 7-5 only for O’Sullivan to catapult himself back into a 9-8 advantage. With the tension palpable in the final frame, O’Sullivan made a rapid 60 before missing a tricky red to the yellow bag on the cusp of the title.
Higgins decided to nervelessly roll a make-or-break red to a centre pocket at dead weight. It decided to drop at the last minute almost like Tiger Woods' chip at the 16th in the final round of golf's 2005 US Masters at Augusta before Higgins went for a double on a red to give him the platform for victory.
A clinical clearance of 64 was enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. O’Sullivan made three centuries 139, 138 and 100 yet still lost in the duo's most dramatic conclusion over 69 career clashes.
The final year of the Masters at Wembley Conference Centre in 2006.
Image credit: Eurosport
"That loss was hard to take because I made a 60 in the last frame. Missed, then [I had] another half decent chance and missed that," said O'Sullivan.
You give Higgins a second chance, he’s a predator. He’s different class at clearing up in them situations under pressure. Higgins is unbelievable for doing them monster clearances.
Kirk Stevens of Canada playing in the Masters Snooker Championship at Wembley Arena in London.
Image credit: Eurosport
5. Maximum man Stevens sizzles in white suit in white-hot classic
Before Craig Revel Horwood aired the word "fantabulous" on Strictly Come Dancing, the celebrated 1980s commentator Jack Karnehm used to trot out the term on Strictly Come Snooker. The 1984 Masters semi-final between Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White and Kirk Stevens has entered into green baize folklore over the past 37 years.
It was brilliant back in the day and still holds up pretty well in these times when 147s are made with more regularity than lockdowns are announced. There was only six centuries during the event, but three of them in the final five frames of a quality semi-final with Stevens recording the first 147 at the event.
Leading 3-2, White made 113 on his way to 5-3 only for Stevens to produce a magnificent 147 break, the first of three at the Masters emulated later by Ding Junhui in 2007 and Marco Fu in 2015. White responded with a 119 and a fabled banana shot late in the frame to secure his place in a final that he would win with a 9-5 victory over Terry Griffiths.
It was also a precursor for his 16-14 win over the Canadian player in the World Championship semi-finals later in the year.
Clasping a glass of champagne alongside the flamboyant Stevens, White said: "I was buzzing because Kirk made a maximum. It was magic."
"Words escape me – just fantabulous," commented Karnehm.
Two wonderful young men.
It remains difficult to believe this would be White's only triumph at the event, but the Whirlwind of old London town certainly won the hearts of the locals.
Ronnie O Sullivan of England competes during the 2015 Snooker Masters semifinal at the Alexandra Pal
Image credit: Eurosport
6. 'Happy birthday Stephen' – O’Sullivan equals Hendry century record
The Masters in 2015 was another seismic moment in the Rocket's regalia that has witnessed him become the record Masters winner of all time with titles in 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Watched by his celebrity mates Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood and artist Damien Hirst, O’Sullivan has always been as comfortable at the Masters as TOWIE in the Sugar Hut, mainly because he doesn't have to travel far. He doesn’t so much arrive at the Masters as sweep in like some sort of heavyweight boxer with the punching power to back up the hype. The raucous locals expect as much as a Stones concert, and O’Sullivan tends never to disappoint.
His 6-4 win over Walden in the first round – a figure he had butchered 6-0 a year before in one of the finest exhibitions ever witnessed in the event – produced a moment of TV gold as he set about equalling Hendry’s career record total of 775 centuries.
With Hendry watching as a studio pundit on his 46th birthday, O’Sullivan needed to fluke the final yellow to complete the ton. He duly bludgeoned the balls in a vain attempt to keep the break going. “You never know. There’s six pockets on a table,” said an excitable commentator John Virgo, the 1979 UK champion. The yellow duly galloped down a middle pocket and left him bang on the green. O’Sullivan duly mopped up.
The Rocket rolled in the blue for the century as Virgo blurted out: “Happy birthday, Stephen”. It was a fitting moment to equal Hendry's majestic haul. He passed it with a break of 101 against Marco Fu in the quarter-finals. All of O’Sullivan’s birthdays had come at once.
Paul Hunter 2004 mit der Siegertrophäe des Masters
Image credit: Getty Images
7. Hunter ensures place in Masters folklore
Paul Hunter never lived beyond his 20s, but crammed a lifetime’s worth of achievements into a limited time span.
Hunter was a fantastic player, a heavy scorer, but the likeable Leeds lad was denied the chance to mount a sustained assault on the event by ill health. The Yorkshireman was tragically taken away by cancer at the age of 28 when his talents hinted at greater times ahead.
Hunter won the Masters three times in 2001, 2002 and 2004, all by a 10-9 scorelines, and all by recovering deficits. He was 7-3 down to Fergal O'Brien in 2001, 5-0 behind against Mark Williams in 2002 and 7-2 down to Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2004 yet won them all.
He made five centuries in his final victory over O'Sullivan, claiming the final three frames to snatch a famous victory at the old Wembley Conference Centre.
"He won three masters titles, but for illness and sadly passing away who knows what he could have gone onto achieve," Jimmy White told Eurosport.
I think he could have well gone into the conversation of greatest-ever players had he been alive and well.
The closest he came to reaching the final of the World Championship was in 2003 when Ken Doherty mounted a comeback from 15-9 behind to edge a taut semi-final thriller 17-16.
Hunter will be celebrated as a timeless young Master. His name adorns the Masters trophy when it could easily have been the World Championship.
Stephen Hendry with the Masters title in 1992.
Image credit: Eurosport
8. Hendry comeback stuns Hallett
Stephen Hendry lifted five straight Masters titles between 1989 and 1993 before snaring a sixth in 1996, but his most memorable victory came against the unfortunate Mike Hallett in 1991, three years after the gallant Grimbsy player had been whitewashed 9-0 by Steve Davis in the 1988 final.
The prodigious seven-times world champion was only in the early stages of his reign at the summit of the sport with a destructive scoring approach that had left plenty of old timers of the 1980s running for cover.
In his prime, Eurosport pundit Hallett was a stylish, assured potter who reached number six in the world. He produced a fine exhibition of scoring to assume control at the Wembley Conference Centre. Hendry had trailed 7-0 and 8-2 with his former world doubles-winning partner needing only a pink with the rest to seal a 9-3 victory.
He missed and the rest is history as Hendry clawed his way back without the need for one-visit snooker. Despite failing to make a break over 50 in the final seven frames, he completed a 9-8 victory that scarcely seemed believable as his opponent appeared to mentally beat himself.
Hendry earned a £100,000 cheque while Hallett later discovered his home had been burgled, but it was hardly daylight robbery that denied him the Masters title as tension took over. Hallett cut a forlorn figure.
It took me about six months to get over it, I was totally crushed.
Amid such frazzled goings on, anything is missable. As Hendry would himself later discover.
Image credit: Eurosport
9. Hurricane Higgins roars to victory against Davis
Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins won two Masters titles with a 7-5 win over the three-times winner Cliff Thorburn in 1978 and a 9-6 victory over Terry Griffiths in 1981, but his seismic success against the seemingly impregnable Steve Davis in 1985 was a moment of true magnitude.
When the double world champion stepped out at the Wembley Conference Centre for their match in the round of 16, he was cheered into the venue with more fanfare then the boxer Frank Bruno. Local lad Davis was roundly booed in a match he would lose 5-4 after making a blunder on the final blue.
"Higgins does it, and Wembley Conference Centre erupts," commented a slightly disbelieving Clive Everton in the commentary box.
Four times this season he's lost to Davis, but this time he's won. A tremendous evening for Higgins and his supporters. The people's champion has done it again.
“We are f*****g back,” bellowed Higgins amid being mobbed by his adoring public, a comment he denied making before being fined, one of numerous costly outbursts he totted up simply for having no self-restraint.
The scene afterwards summed up the popularity of Higgins as an inimitable talent who revolutionised the sport in 1980s. Without the fame and infamy of the brilliant Northern Irishman, snooker nor the Masters would enjoy such a colourful narrative.
10. 'Ball-run' Bingham becomes grandest master
Like Denmark's entrance to the Euro '92 football tournament, world number 17 Ali Carter navigated his route to the Masters final after Ronnie O'Sullivan's decision to withdraw from the event due to unhappiness over media commitments a year earlier.
Unlike the Danes, he could not quite take the final step as Stuart Bingham recovered from trailing 7-5 to complete a 10-8 win. Aged 43 years and 243 days, the ‘Ball-run’ from Basildon became the oldest winner of the tournament at Alexandra Palace, five years after his unheralded rise to the world title. No flash in the palace this.
Bingham ran in one of the nine maximum 147 breaks of 2020 increasing the total to 164 – 130 of which have been constructed since the year 2000. But oddly enough, he curiously finished his win over the two-times world finalist Carter with a knock of 109, his solitary century of the event, one more than Perrie Mans enjoyed in claiming the 1979 title in its first year at the Wembley Conference Centre.
Which suggests winning the Masters remains as much about strategy as scoring.
Highlights: Bingham beats Carter to take Masters title
“The people in the game know my World Championship win was not a fluke," said Bingham, who was forced to miss the 2018 Masters after serving an unfortunate six-month suspension for breaking betting rules.
You will always have haters, even with winning this.
"People will say I got lucky or I won because Ronnie was not playing. No matter how much you explain to them, or talk to them about what did not happen with the betting, they don't believe you – they will still call me a cheat."
WATCH LIVE COVERAGE OF THE 47TH MASTERS ON EUROSPORT AND EUROSPORT APP BETWEEN 10-17 JANUARY 2021.
2021 Masters first round draw and schedule
Judd Trump v David Gilbert (1pm Sunday 10 January)
Kyren Wilson v Jack Lisowski (7pm Sunday 10 January)
Stuart Bingham v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (1pm Monday 11 January)
Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams (7pm Monday 11 January)
Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire (7pm Tuesday 12 January)
Neil Robertson v Yan Bingtao (1pm Tuesday 12 January)
John Higgins v Mark Allen (7pm Wednesday January 13th)
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui (1pm Wednesday January 13th)