Features and Interviews

Well, Who is the Best Player Without a Ranking Event Now?

We’re back discussing this conversation again!

Darren Morgan (EBSA)

Morgan won the Irish Masters at Goffs in 1996. Photo credit: EBSA

For several years the answer to the question of the best player to have never won a ranking event always seemed like a no-brainer.

However, in recent times the debate has been thrown on its head with numerous first-time champions on the tour – many of them tour stalwarts who probably should have won something of note sooner.

It was only last October that I wrote a similar article outlining some of the names that would feature prominently on the list.

That piece came after Liang Wenbo’s success in the English Open but not long after Mark King secured an emotional victory in the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

While both of these players would have probably been in most people’s top five list of perennial bridesmaids, they still didn’t come anywhere close to the top two.

Yet, Anthony Hamilton’s German Masters glory in February followed by Ryan Day’s recent Riga Masters victory means an entirely new list must be written.

For years, Hamilton and Day propped up the conversation as the likely men who had all the potential in the world to win something big, but never did.

But there’s something in the snooker air these days, aided obviously by the influx in the number of tournaments on the calendar, which has resulted in so many new winners.

The question which was circulating around social media throughout Sunday evening and into Monday then was, who is now the best player to have never won a ranking event?

There were several names thrown into the mix.

Englishmen Michael Holt, David Gilbert, Mark Davis, and Robert Milkins seemed to be popular choices as most people stuck to active players still on the circuit.

Whether any of these names really have the credentials to be worthy of having this, if you will, dishonour bestowed on them is clearly up for debate.

Have any of them really done enough to prove that they are the best to have never won a ranking event?

Holt and Gilbert are talented players who have both finished as runner-up in one ranking event each, but they haven’t really done much else of note, have never featured in the top 16 in the world rankings, and have never challenged in any of the majors.

Davis and Milkins have broken into the elite top 16 on occasion but have never reached a ranking event final, albeit the former has a hat-trick of 6 Red World Championships to his credit.

The difficulty then is to find the right criteria – with a mixture of previous performance in ranking events, majors, and membership of the top 16 seemingly the most obvious categories to analyse.

In that case, one name who does seem to stick out more than most is Welshman Darren Morgan.

The 51 year-old reached a career high of eighth in the world rankings in the mid-nineties, was twice a beaten finalist in ranking tournaments, and was a semi-finalist in both the World and UK Championships.

Since his retirement from the professional scene ten years ago, Morgan has also dominated the international amateur masters circuit for over 40s, and even embarked on a romantic run to the last four of the Riga Masters last year as a wildcard.

There appears to be nobody who comes even close to matching Morgan, although arguments could also be made for the likes of Tony Drago and Joe Swail.

Both popular cueists spent many seasons in the top 16 and have also been edged in ranking event deciders, while Swail made two memorable last four appearances at the Crucible at the start of the millennium.

For this trio, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll ever fulfill their dream of landing a ranking title – although we did say that about Hamilton before his monumental effort in Berlin.

Going even further back, Canadian Kirk Stevens was a star of the eighties who never lived up to his potential.

Stevens boasted a runner-up spot in the British Open as well reaching the World Championship semi-final – coming at a period when there were significantly less tournaments of such elevated status compared to now.

Others who are much younger and could still threaten in years to come are Luca Brecel and Jamie Cope.

Brecel, like some of the up-and-coming Chinese talent on the Main Tour, is arguably still too young to be in this conversation but would certainly enter the fold if he spent another half dozen years on the Main Tour without any success.

Cope, runner-up in the 2006 Grand Prix and 2007 China Open, dropped off the tour at the end of last season and has struggled in recent seasons with a tremor, considerably hampering his form and confidence.

At 31, there is still time for him to make a comeback but whether that will materialise or not remains to be seen, and is probably doubtful.

Regardless, there must be a huge sense of delight and relief shared by Day, Hamilton, Liang, and King after sweeping to success in the last few months.

They never again have to worry about the startling scenario of having to bow out from the game winless.

In this age of snooker when there are countless tournaments which come thick and fast throughout every season, it seems more and more unlikely that we’ll have contenders to this list as obvious as they were during this quartet’s era without silverware.

Who do you think is the new best player to have never won a ranking event?

5 replies »

  1. I’m surprised you forget Kirk Stevens did reach a Ranking Event Final – the notorious Dulux British Open of 1985, in which Silvino Francisco beat him 12-9, but accused him afterwards of being ‘high as a kite’, and continually disappearing into the toilets with ‘little white bags’. After a WPBSA hearing, Francisco was fined & deducted ranking points. After Stevens’ subsequent confession (through a tabloid newspaper) several months later, the fine was reimbursed and the ranking points returned to Silvino. Unfortunately, neither of their careers ever really recovered from this sorry incident, ironically Francisco served a 3yr prison sentence some years later for his part in a Cannabis smuggling racket.

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  2. Well said, Snooker Ed25. Patsy Fagan won two big tournaments in his day, the Dry Blackthorn and the very first UK Championships . If my memory serves me right, both were invitational and not ranking events . In his prime , Patsy was a formidable opponent and to most observers was well on his way to being a world champion, sooner rather then later. He was a great loss to the game when he developed the yips just as he seemed destined to rule .

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