Snooker World Championship Betting: Attacking genius Maguire running out of time to fulfil Crucible dream
Scot has the game to land the World Championship but at 28 he's running out of time to achieve his aim of lifting the title before his 30th birthday.
To win the World Championship a player needs more than mere talent. All 32 players taking part are talented but what will separate out the winner from the rest of the field are a number of other factors: self belief, an iron will, the ability to handle the unique Crucible pressure and a little luck along the way.
Stephen Maguire does not lack for confidence. Neither should he: he's a great player possessed of an aggressive, attacking style as good as any in the game when he is firing on all cylinders. Maguire has set himself the target of winning the world title by the time he is 30. He's now 28 and his time may well have come.
The Glaswegian, currently trading at [11.0] for the title, has had a reasonable season - three semi-finals and three quarter-finals from eight major events - without winning a title. But he has based his whole campaign around the forthcoming Sheffield marathon.
Maguire should clear his opening round hurdle against Jamie Burnett - an embarrassing spectacle for all concerned considering their match at last December's UK Championship is the subject of a Gambling Commission inquiry into betting irregularities. Over 25 frames, I don't see Mark King or Rory McLeod troubling him in the second round. Ali Carter or Neil Robertson could do so in the quarter-finals but Maguire is in the opposite half to Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Selby and must surely regard this as a plus in his challenge for the title.
O'Sullivan is favourite to win a fourth world title and has a favourable draw, starting off with one of his regular practise partners, Stuart Bingham, a fluent player but perhaps too open to challenge the defending champ over 19 frames. He can, of course, scoop the trophy again but I think if O'Sullivan came up against Selby in the semi-finals he might find four sessions of the hard fought match snooker the Leicester man specialises in too much to bear. So the [4.7] Betfair are offering on an O'Sullivan exit in the last four would be my recommendation.
That said, Selby has a tough opening round tie in the shape of Ricky Walden, who won the Shanghai Masters earlier in the season, but Walden is making his Crucible debut and the intimate 980-seat theatre takes some getting used to. Very few debutants manage this and Walden's inexperience should be a help to Selby, whose big challenge on the way to the semis could well be Higgins, a player ominously returning to form.
O'Sullivan told BBC 5 Live last week that only he and Higgins have what it takes to raise their games to take the title. I'd add Maguire, Selby and Carter to that list but in each of the last five years, a surprise finalist - indeed on two occasions a surprise winner - has come through the pack in inspired if unexpected fashion. Graeme Dott was runner-up in 2004, Shaun Murphy won in 2005, Dott captured the title in 2006, Selby was the losing finalist in 2007 and Carter lost out to O'Sullivan last year.
Could this pattern continue? Absolutely. The reason is that the snooker circuit has shrunk in terms of the number of tournaments contested and so form is hard to sustain when weeks - or even months - go by with nothing substantial for a player to play in.
If this run of surprise finalists is maintained, who would be worth following? Jamie Cope certainly fits the bill. He's a talented long potter and break builder who made two centuries on his Crucible debut last year despite losing 10-9 in the first round to Peter Ebdon. Cope's been in a couple of finals already - the last was two years ago - but hasn't quite pressed on. His performances can be patchy but when he plays well he is a sight to behold. He's trading at [70.0] to go all the way.
Betfair are offering odds on the number of centuries - either 59 or fewer, 60 to 69 or 70 and over. Last year there were 62 but this year the tables are being re-clothed three times as opposed to two and this should aid higher scoring. Therefore, [2.12] on the century record of 68, set in 2002 and equalled in 2007, being broken may be worth investigating.
O'Sullivan is favourite to make the highest break but the value could be Higgins at [7.6]. The Scot has compiled 85 centuries at the Crucible compared to O'Sullivan's 88 but has appeared there on two fewer occasions.
The last time the highest break was lower than 140 was back in 1987. It's highly possible there will be a 147 - there were two last year after all - but I wouldn't back a 146 - there have only been around a dozen ever constructed compared to over 60 maximums.
* The World Championships start on April 18. Betting.betfair will be running a dedicated set of pages for the event featuring daily tips alongside betting guides and Crucible updates.
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