Features and Interviews

The Best Players to Have Never Won the UK Championship

Every year this website runs a top ten list of the best players who have never managed to win the World Championship at the Crucible.

UK Trophy

This is the trophy they are all after.

With the UK Championship getting under way on Tuesday, it got me thinking as to who then would fall into that category for the sport’s second biggest ranking tournament.

The 2017 edition will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the inaugural staging back in 1977, an event that was won by Irishman Patsy Fagan.

At that point, the UK Championship was only open to competitors from the United Kingdom and Ireland, although in those days the vast majority of the sport’s biggest names hailed from that region regardless.

A lot has changed in the four decades since with the sport becoming more global and, in more recent times, cueists from as far afield as China and Australia have etched their names on the prestigious trophy.

Indeed, a quick glance at the roll of honour would tell you that the UK Championship has been won by so many of the game’s biggest and most popular names.

Even more so than at the Crucible perhaps, the existence of a shock champion has been less frequent for whatever reason.

In the World Championship, many will point to Joe Johnson’s unlikely triumph in 1986 or Graeme Dott’s glory 20 years later, while the unexpected runs from a pair of qualifiers in Terry Griffiths and Shaun Murphy also spring to mind.

When examining the UK Championship shortlist of winners, especially after the tournament was opened up and made a ranking event in 1984, not a single figure stands out as being in any way surprising that he was able to get his hands on the silverware.

Doug Mountjoy’s victory in 1988 at the age of 46 somewhat came out of the blue but, even with that, the Welshman had already triumphed in the event a decade earlier.

Returning to the top ten list of players who have fallen short in Sheffield, several of those talents have been able to at least win the next biggest ranker on the calendar – including Jimmy White, Matthew Stevens, Ding Junhui, Judd Trump, and Stephen Maguire.

Perhaps the UK Championship, which has predominantly been scheduled just before Christmas right in the middle of the campaign, comes at the most opportune juncture for the best players when they are nicely warmed up for the term and in tune with their games.

The slightly longer format, albeit shorter now than it was in the past, also suits the higher ranked stars as it gives them more time to control a contest and leaves less to chance.

If practically all of the marquee names have emerged with a UK title over the years, then who is the best player to have never won it?

Former world champion Ken Doherty, with three runners-up finishes to his credit, is the most obvious pick – with his failure ensuring that Fagan remains the only Irishman, south of the border at least, to have claimed the crown.

Doherty was on the wrong end of a Stephen Hendry masterclass in 1994 when the Scot scored an incredible seven centuries in the final, while the 48 year-old suffered a 10-1 annihilation at the hands of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2001 showdown.

The six-time ranking event winner’s biggest chance came a year later when he met Mark Williams in the decider.

Doherty fought back from 9-7 down to force a final frame shoot-out, but similar to his subsequent World Championship final later in the season against the Welshman, Williams denied the Dubliner at the death for a cruel hat-trick of defeats.

Ironically, last month Doherty participated in the first ever UK Seniors Championship, where a runner-up spot was again the best he could muster.

Other players that would feature in the debate from maybe a little further back are fellow former world champions Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn, and Dennis Taylor.

However, of those only Taylor could potentially be truly considered because, by 1977, Reardon’s heyday had already passed and Canada’s Thorburn wasn’t permitted to properly enter until 1984 – which was also a touch beyond his best years in the game.

The best that trio could boast were semi-final appearances, with all of their greater moments coming in either the World Championship or the invitational Masters.

In the modern era, the likes of Dott, Ali Carter, Barry Hawkins, Marco Fu, and Mark Allen would probably take their rightful place in the conversation, with the banned Stephen Lee also thrown into the mix as well.

Of course, a player who we’ll unfortunately never know if he would have been able to join the pantheon of champions or not is Paul Hunter, who seemed destined to be heralded among the greats of the game before his premature death in 2006.

In just under a fortnight the latest name will be written into the history books at the Barbican Centre in York.

Who will it be?

Live coverage of the UK Championship will be provided by the BBC and Eurosport.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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