With the Betway UK Championship less than two months away, Richard Mann thinks now might be the time to strike a bet.
- This article was first published on October 23; Richard Mann will be publishing a supplementary outright preview on Tuesday together with our first snooker podcast
Ronnie O'Sullivan flattered to deceive when bowing out at the semi-finals stage of the English Open last week having made serene progress to the last four, but he remains the man to beat in the coming months.
Despite being seriously short of table time so far this season - victory in the valuable Shanghai Masters his only competitive appearance previously this term - O'Sullivan was still able to treat fans in Crawley to a sublime 147 maximum break in the first round and having made it through to the business end of the tournament, it was a little surprising he was unable to go all the way.
Nevertheless, despite his obvious frustration with his level of play at times, it appears that O'Sullivan is steadily building himself back to top form for a crucial stage stage of the season, one he dominated 12 months ago.
Having lifted the English Open trophy last term, O'Sullivan then went on to reach the final of the Champions of Champions before returning to York to lift the UK Championship at a canter.
With his beloved Masters following in mid-January, it is easy to see why O'Sullivan, now 42, would look to tailor his season around those Triple Crown events and he will surely take some stopping.
I fully expect O'Sullivan to peak very soon and another interesting story to come out of Crawley was that he is now working with revered coach Stephen Feeney of SightRight, whose tutelage of Mark Williams has been credited with the Welshman's dramatic upturn in fortunes last season.
O'Sullivan has admitted to having been 'blown away' by their first few sessions working together and although it is still early days in the partnership, it is one that promises great things.
While O'Sullivan's semi-final defeat in Crawley was admittedly disappointing, the week's events highlighted the fact that while he is far from invincible, there are even greater doubts surrounding some of his chief rivals at the top of the sport.
O'Sullivan was keen to point out that he remains a little way short of his best form yet still made the last four, whereas reigning world champion Williams openly admitted that he will struggle to reach last season's heights until he can find the motivation to start practicing properly again while John Higgins confessed to 'hating the game' before suffering another early exit.
Judd Trump's impressive early run proved another false dawn and Mark Selby, Neil Roberston and Ryan Day are all struggling to find the consistency required to compete for major trophies on a regular basis.
Kyren Wilson enjoyed a terrific start to the current campaign - winning the Paul Hunter Classic and Six-Red World Championship - but he has found the going tougher since while recent English Open victor Stuart Bingham hasn't cut much ice in York in the last couple of years.
It is hard to remember a season where so many of the top players had such questions to answer over their form, last year's UK Championship runner-up Shaun Murphy another to fall into that bracket.
As such, I find myself unable to muster viable alternatives to defending champion O'Sullivan, who remains the best player on the planet and whose light campaign to date suggests the best is yet to come.
While it won't win any prizes for originality, the 4/1 available with Sky Bet for the The Rocket to win a record seventh UK Championship is more than fair and looks worth snapping up now. He's as short as 5/2 elsewhere and that looks a much more realistic assessment.
Posted at 1410 BST on 23/10/18.