The 2012 Players Tour Championship Grand Finals get under way in Galway on Wednesday and today it was announced that the event will be sponsored by Betfair.
The tournament in the Bailey Allen Hall marks the second time this season that professional snooker will be played in Ireland following the Alex Higgins International Trophy back in October – the eighth in the PTC series.
After the twelve events, the top 24 will now battle it out for the £70,000 top prize – a just reward for a long, hard graft of best of seven formats to qualify for this stage.
Of course, uniquely the Grand Finals remain best of seven all the way through which ensures that there is a great degree of difficulty in predicting the overall outcome.
Any forecasting is doubly difficult by the fact that there is no shortage of top stars on the west coast this week.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson all claimed two PTC titles each earlier in the campaign and will be among the top favourites to add to their glittering trophy cabinets.
That is not to mention the likes of world number one Mark Selby, world champion John Higgins, Welsh Open winner Ding Junhui and recent ranking event finalists Stephens Maguire and Lee.
Some have qualms about the best of seven format but the great thing about it is that it can act as a leveler, serving as an opportunity for players more unknown to the wider audience to go deeply into the business side of the weekend.
Martin Gould took that opportunity last year and, as the underdog, gained a surprising, but I’m sure welcomed, legion of support from the Irish fans in Dublin as he carved his way through to the final – eventually running out of steam in losing 4-0 to Shaun Murphy in the final at The Helix.
Pinner’s Gould is back again this year for another crack but defending champion Murphy is one of the few Top 16 players that are absent having failed to finish inside the 24 on the Order of Merit.
Two players that will be desperate to emulate Gould’s progress of this time last year will be Michael Holt and Tom Ford.
Both Englishman have enjoyed a decent run of form in the last few months and are equally capable and talented enough to make the step up in class towards the elite bracket.
With the likes of young, up and coming pretenders Jack Lisowski, Jamie Jones and Xiao Guodong also in the tournament it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, can stamp their authority in the big time.
The Irish contingent itself is low, so low in fact that the sole participant is veteran Fergal O’Brien.
O’Brien’s potential route to the quarter-final is arguably a manageable one, though, with Joe Perry his opening opposition followed by Graeme Dott in the last 16 if he makes it that far.
For the sake of local interest and steady crowds over the first couple of days, it would probably do no harm if the Ferginator could scramble a few victories.
Speaking of which, the crowds could easily go either way in my eyes.
Ticket sales for Sunday are reportedly very good but nobody ever questioned the likely success of a final day of a major tournament.
What is of concern is the fact that St. Patrick’s Day falls on Saturday, the eve of the event, and coupled with the England vs Ireland encounter in the Six Nations we’ll just have to wait and see whether or not that will hinder the supporters coming in the doors for quarter-final day.
Either way, the action on the baize should not be effected with another exciting tournament in store as we enter the home stretch for the 2011/12 season.
Update: The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.