Ronnie O’Sullivan remains on track for a second Home Nations series title after beating Duane Jones 4-0 in the second round of the Northern Ireland Open on Wednesday.
The English Open champion wasn’t at his best but crucially denied the Welshman in two close frames, cushioned by runs of 81 and 65, to comfortably seal the whitewash victory.
O’Sullivan moves five wins away from sealing a success in Belfast that would take him to the halfway point in his quest to pocket the one million pound bonus on offer for any player who can claim all four Home Nations series crowns.
The “Rocket” faces another lowly ranked competitor in Elliot Slessor in the last 32 so will be expected to safely negotiate that task at least, with greater challenges potentially to come later in the tournament.
Local favourite Mark Allen crashed out, though, losing the last two frames in a disappointing deciding frame loss to Tian Pengfei.
Like in last year’s edition when he reached the quarter-finals, Allen struggled to discover his A-game in front of a legion of home support and will rue a missed opportunity with his quarter of the draw so wide open.
China’s Liang Wenbo also succumbed to a defeat in that section, losing 4-1 to Liam Highfield, which means that the highest seeded competitor in with a chance of reaching the last four in that part of the draw is Thepchaiya Un-Nooh – who isn’t even inside the world’s top 50.
Legends Jimmy White and Ken Doherty also feature after comprehensive triumphs against Jak Jones and Niu Zhuang respectively.
Doherty represents the sole remaining Irishman left fighting it out for silverware while White has always been hugely popular on the Emerald Isle.
Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire were two more high-profile cueists to exit at the second hurdle, with the Englishman falling 4-1 to Xiao Guodong and the Scot heavily beaten by Gary Wilson.
Shanghai Masters semi-finalist Jack Lisowski also lost in a 4-2 scoreline against the battling Ricky Walden.
However, Neil Robertson maintained his hopes of a strong outing and with it a much-needed boost in his efforts to seal a Masters invitation in January.
The Australian hammered Billy Joe Castle 4-0 but Ryan Day, his close rival in the Race to the Masters standings, also progressed courtesy of a 4-2 victory over Li Hang.
It wasn’t an especially good day for the Chinese contingent, who started it with 17 players but only six made it through to the third round.
Among them was Yan Bingtao, who thumped Jamie Curtis-Barret 4-0 to set up an intriguing encounter with defending champion Mark King.
Yan accounted for the then reigning English Open champion Liang Wenbo in Barnsley last month so it’ll be interesting to see if he can make it an unusual double.
Elsewhere, two-time world champion Mark Williams compiled the 400th century break of his illustrious career in a 4-0 rout of Tom Ford, while among the others to advance were John Higgins, Anthony McGill, David Gilbert, Michael Holt, Joe Perry, and Noppon Saengkham.
Thursday will arguably prove to be the busiest day of a frenetic week in Antrim as both the third and fourth rounds take place at the Waterfront Hall.
Live coverage continues on Eurosport and Quest TV.