Snooker Betting: Shotgun takes aim as reputations fail to fire
The Rocket's withdrawal means Stephen Maguire will fancy his chances in a depleted Bahrain Championship field and, in the right mood, one Hong Kong potter is also a great shout to set up an intriguing final. But perhaps an outsider from Stoke can spring a surprise, says David Hendon.
The Bahrain Championship is the first ranking event to be staged in the Gulf since the 1994 Dubai Classic. That was won by Alan McManus and another Glaswegian, Stephen Maguire, is worth supporting in snooker's newest tournament.
The world no.2 won two titles - the Northern Ireland Trophy and China Open - last season and at one stage during the World Championship was favourite to take the game's biggest crown only to come unstuck in the quarter-finals. Maguire is ultra competitive. If he's playing badly this can be his downfall because he turns the aggression in on himself but, when his best form comes to the fore, he marshals his fighting qualities and can be unstoppable. Maguire is currently trading at [6.4] for the Bahrain title, has a reasonable draw and is now the top seed after the withdrawal earlier this week of Ronnie O'Sullivan.
The world champion's no-show should be good news for Marco Fu, priced at [13.5], who now looks to have a clear run to the quarter-finals. Fu, who won his first ranking title, the Grand Prix, last season, should see off Dominic Dale in the first round and is the sort of player who is very hard to contain when he finds his A game. The problem the Hong Kong potter has is that he doesn't seem to find it very often but he's a great shout to reach the final now O'Sullivan has elected to stay at home.
One thing to remember about this event is that three players with every chance of winning the title - John Higgins, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui - are not able to play following a shambolic scheduling cock-up which has seen it put on the same week as they are playing in Sky's Premier League in Haywards Heath. This means several players will fancy their chances in a depleted, if still high quality, field.
One of them will be Jamie Cope, who I make my outsider to follow. Cope, a lightning fast potter from Stoke nicknamed 'The Shotgun', has already been in two ranking finals in the last two years and is in a section of the draw that features several players - Stephen Hendry, Graeme Dott and Peter Ebdon among them - badly struggling for form. Cope cares little for reputations and will mercifully take advantage if any of these players fail to fire.
He plays the sort of relentless game that Hendry himself pioneered and that the likes of O'Sullivan and Higgins have used to great effect over the last 15 years. Put simply: he's good enough to win a major title. At [16.0] he is worth backing to do so this week.
Where will the surprises come in the first round? Matthew Stevens, twice the World Championship runner-up, is down to 33rd in the latest rankings and could come unstuck against the often dangerous Stuart Bingham while Michael Judge beat talented Chinese prodigy Liang Wenbo in the qualifiers and has all the experience to wear down Ali Carter, who has figured in the semi-finals of three of the last four ranking events.
But in the wildcard round, which pits six qualifiers against six players chosen from the Gulf region, it looks set to be a clean sweep for the established players. Only Habib Subah, a Bahrainian who played on the pro circuit during the 2006/07 season, looks capable of causing an upset against journeyman Mark Davis. Even this seems very unlikely.
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