Ronnie O’Sullivan gets his 2019 Masters campaign under way on Monday afternoon with a first round tie against Stuart Bingham at the Alexandra Palace.
O’Sullivan is looking to capture the prestigious invitational title for an unprecedented eighth time.
The “Rocket” missed out on glory twelve months ago when he was dismantled in the quarter-finals by eventual winner Mark Allen.
However, three out of the last five Masters outcomes have resulted in O’Sullivan’s name being etched onto the trophy.
The world number three is the obvious favourite for this edition and his cause will have arguably been made that little bit easier following the early demises of Allen and old foe John Higgins in the top half of the draw.
In a pair of clashes that went the distance on the first day, Allen surrendered his crown at the opening hurdle with a 6-5 reverse against Belgium’s Luca Brecel in what was a barnstorming affair.
The duo traded sizeable contributions at a frenetic pace as 23 year-old Brecel avenged last year’s debut defeat to the Northern Irishman at the same stage.
Higgins, meanwhile, crashed out by a similarly narrow margin to Ryan Day, who coolly compiled a 128 century break in the decider to emerge from what was a tense battle.
The Welshman now awaits the winner of the tie between O’Sullivan and Bingham but the stats don’t look pretty in terms of the latter conjuring an upset.
The Masters possibly represents O’Sullivan’s favourite tournament as the London venue isn’t too far from his home, the field is restricted to only the elite, and there’s a hefty prize fund with a whopping £200,000 on offer for the champion.
O’Sullivan first played in the Masters in 1994 and, in 24 previous appearances, he has only fallen in his opening match on a measly four occasions.
In fact, O’Sullivan has proceeded to reach the final an incredible dozen times and he’s the 8/5 favourite with Sportingbet to lift the Paul Hunter Trophy this Sunday.
The head-to-head doesn’t make for pretty reading either as Bingham, who did inflict a standout defeat on the 43 year-old in the 2015 World Championship as he secured an unlikely success in Sheffield, has lost all but three times the duo has crossed paths.
That includes their last three showdowns when O’Sullivan victories have all proved to be stepping stones onto securing tournament silverware on that given week.
With Higgins and Allen accounted for already, only Ding Junhui remains from elsewhere in the top half of the draw with major honours under his belt.
But even with that, the Chinese number one, who faces debutant Jack Lisowski later on Monday, has been struggling for form of late and has a dreadful Masters record since winning the title eight years ago.
O’Sullivan, who has picked up the winner’s cheques in the Shanghai Masters, Champion of Champions, and UK Championship during this campaign so far, will be looking to assert his dominance again.
Bingham will perhaps be seeking redemption after he missed the 2018 Masters through a suspension for betting.
Yet, it’s difficult to see how he can overcome O’Sullivan on what is essentially the five-time world champion’s home turf.