Shaun Murphy has backed Barry Hawkins for Masters glory after suffering a 6-2 defeat to the former World Grand Prix champion in the first round at London's Alexandra Palace.
Hawkins lost the 2013 world final (18-12) and the 2016 Masters final (10-1) to Ronnie O'Sullivan respectively, but 2005 world champion Murphy believes he is sharp enough to challenge for the Paul Hunter Trophy and £250,000 top prize this year.
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The Ditton professional extended his dominance against Murphy at the sport's most coveted invitational tournament having also toppled his fellow Englishman 6-1 in 2017 and 6-2 three years ago in the first round.
“After the interval I thought he played like a possible winner of the tournament," said Murphy.
"He was very, very good and he doesn’t make many mistakes.
"Losing the fourth and fifth frames took the wind out of my sales and in the end he picked me off.”
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Hawkins rolled in breaks of 65, 67, 60, 103 and 69 as he won the final five frames from 2-1 behind to secure a quarter-final with Mark Selby or Stephen Maguire on Friday night.
“I played well tonight and I’ve played well before here. Maybe it is just the occasion. It is a local tournament and a massive occasion," said the world number 10.
"Sometimes I get up for it more than I do the other events. Shaun is a great player, I can’t see why I do well against him here but his head-to-head is 10-4. I just seem to have it on him here really."
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