The 2011/12 season is officially under way as the amateur rounds of the first Players Tour Championship event took place this weekend.
Tomorrow, the qualifiers lock horns with the professionals as the first round proper gets under way and the rollercoaster of the new campaign begins.
Last year the Players Tour Championship series – which incorporates six events in the UK, six events in Europe and then a Grand Finals in Dublin for the top 24 in an Order of Merit – gave amateurs the opportunity to compete with the Main Tour pros on a regular basis.
This year there is added incentive as the top 8 players on the Order of Merit who have not already qualified will be awarded a place for the 2012/13 Main Tour.
It is just reward for those that are good enough and there will surely be one or two in the field of amateurs that will fancy their chances of booking their professional ticket via this route by the end of the year.
One to look out for is Englishman Ben Harrison – a favourite over at Snooker Island – who overcame Brian Cox in a decider and then Ronnie O’Sullivan’s protégé Joel Walker 4-2 to book a meeting with Pink Ribbon champion Mark Joyce in the main draw.
Countryman Kyren Wilson endured a difficult maiden season as a professional last year. Although he won a couple of matches in each of the UK and World Championships qualifying rounds, Wilson immediately dropped off the circuit.
However, two good wins over Jak Jones and Ian Stark have got Wilson off to a positive start and his reward is a meeting with seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry.
The star of the qualifying rounds, though, has to be veteran Mike Hallett.
The 51 year-old 1989 Honk Kong Open champion has come out of retirement to try to gain one of those eight coveted places and make an unlikely return as a pro while two early triumphs have set up an intriguing clash with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The pair would have met in very different circumstances fifteen to twenty years ago as Ronnie began his surge up the rankings and Hallett’s decline commenced.
In the other standout first round encounters, 16 year-old Belgian sensation Luca Brecel takes on Anthony Hamilton in his debut match, stalwarts Steve Davis and James Wattana renew an old rivalry while Q-School winner David Gilbert has a date with Crucible runner-up Judd Trump.
Ireland’s John Sutton, who only finished 19th in the Irish rankings last season, also progressed with two victories. His reward is a meeting with Stephen Lee while fellow Irishman David Morris challenges Jimmy White.
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