The Home Nations Series concludes next week with the Welsh Open, where Richard Mann is hoping to land a big-priced winner with one of his three outright selections.
1pt e.w. Tom Ford to win the Welsh Open at 40/1 (bet365)
1pt e.w. Gary Wilson to win the Welsh Open at 40/1 (General)
0.5pt e.w. Matt Selt to win the Welsh Open at 70/1 (BetVictor)
Since this article was published on Friday February 9, Ronnie O'Sullivan has withdrawn from the Welsh Open
Snooker is often heralded for the strength of its tour and the depth in quality throughout the sport, apparently meaning that it is now much harder to win tournaments now than in the past. That has been true for a while, but not so far this season, with the tour dominated by two predictable names.
Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan are at the moment a good way clear of the rest, the former having won four titles already this term and contested another three finals. O’Sullivan has four big wins in the bag, including the Masters and UK Championship, despite him picking and choosing the events he plays.
We are witnessing a startling level of domination from the champion pair: snooker’s greatest ever player, the master, and the modern-day winning machine who is very much the heir to O’Sullivan’s throne, whenever he eventually decides to vacate it.
Nevertheless, O’Sullivan, now 48, has made no secret about his desire to peak for the biggest tournaments and richest prizes, and he has not missed with that approach. But as punters, you have to be wary about taking 3/1 for a player whose record over a long period of time in Home Nations events is poor by his own exceptionally high standards, the 2017 English Open being the last time he won one of these.
He clearly heads to Wales as the form horse, with Trump having opted skip this tournament and rest up for the rest of the season, and only Champion of Champions and Shoot Out winner Mark Allen can really claim to have in any way put it up to the ‘big two’ this term.
Allen got the better of Trump in the final of the Champion of Champions in November, though is probably still himself battling for his very best form.
As such, this next week has all the makings of a big-priced tournament winner. In fact, the Welsh Open has thrown up shock victors in each of the last three years, with Robert Milkins winning last year, Joe Perry the year before that, and Jordan Brown in 2021 when he beat O'Sullivan in the final.
For all three are class acts on their day, they were certainly nowhere near the top of the market, something that can be said about TOM FORD who continues to go under the radar but is in the midst of a very consistent campaign. I think he's worth a bet at 40/1.
As well as finishing runner-up at the prestigious International Championship, Ford has reached three more quarter-finals this term, including at the Scottish Open, the most recent tournament in the Home Nations Series. Having trailed 3-0 in that match, he did well to make a game of it against John Higgins who was very much on his home turf, and it was another solid showing from Ford.
He might feel like he missed a trick when losing to Fan Zhengyi in the last-16 in Berlin last week, but he looked really sharp in the two earlier rounds, only dropping three frames in comprehensive defeats of Xiao Guodong and Mark Davis.
He will clearly need to step up to win in Wales, but we are talking about a two-time ranking event winner now who has been a model of consistency of late, and who we know can produce the sort of heavy scoring needed to carry a player through the demands of an event like this. If Ford gets on a roll, he can be threat anywhere, as he has proved countless times.
Having not qualified for the last two renewals of the Welsh Open, Ford can hopefully draw upon the good memories from his last-eight finish here in 2021, and shouldn’t mind his draw, either, berthed around some bigger names who have been relatively quiet in recent weeks.
At the same price, I want to add GARY WILSON to the staking plan, with his liking for these events clear for all to see.
Wilson was against outstanding when winning the Scottish Open for the second year running in December, quite the achievement given the brutal nature of the best-of-seven frames format, and his reliability under pressure once again came to the fore, coming through no less than four deciding frames that week.
That is just the nature of the beast in the Home Nations Series, but it's a priceless trait to have, and Wilson backed that up with a strong run at the World Grand Prix the following month until an on-song O'Sullivan beat him in the last eight. O'Sullivan commented after that match that he enjoyed more than his fair share of good fortune throughout, his opponent less so, and Wilson certainly left Leicester with his head held high.
A semi-finalist in this event in 2018, Wilson is clearly capable of going deep if finding his groove, and he is another multiple ranking title winner who could quite easily spring a surprise at attractive odds.
Finally, I'm going to throw a few quid at former Indian Open hero MATT SELT.
I can't say a last-16 meeting with Higgins excites me too much, but other than that, Selt doesn't look too badly drawn at all, in and around a host players who have been struggling of late. I'd be hopeful he can beat Ross Muir first up, and from there I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him enjoy a good run.
Selt made the quarter-finals of the English Open earlier this term, and I thought he played really well in his two wins at the German Masters, scoring heavily, until he had no answers to the unstoppable Trump in the last 32.
The vastly-experienced 38-year-old beat Sam Craigie, a semi-finalist in Berlin, to qualify for this event in a really close contest, and I'd say he's playing pretty well at present.
Sure, if he meets Higgins on a going day in the last 16, he'll likely struggle, but the rest of his draw doesn't worry me too much, nor will it Selt, and I'm happy to roll the dice at 70/1.
Posted at 1525 GMT on 09/01/24
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