Following the conclusion of the 2019 Northern Ireland Open, there’s only one ranking event remaining in this season’s Race to the Masters.
The 2020 Masters in early January will, as usual, boast the top 16 players in the world rankings list, with each vying for the sport’s most prestigious invitational title in London.
Most of the field is already known, with the likes of defending champion Judd Trump and record seven-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan among those guaranteed to be participating at the Alexandra Palace.
Indeed, all the players from Trump in first place in the rankings to his close pal Jack Lisowski in 13th are already assured of their spots.
That includes former winners John Higgins, Mark Williams, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, and Mark Allen in what is already promising to be a glittering assembly of the game’s elite.
David Gilbert is set to make his long-awaited Masters debut after a two-year spell in which he has reached three ranking event finals as well as the last four stage of the World Championship in May.
The remaining three slots remain up for grabs, however, and the Race to the Masters always becomes an intriguing subplot during the last counting tournament – the UK Championship in York.
As there is a substantial amount of prize money on offer at the Barbican Centre for the campaign’s opening Triple Crown major, a lot can still change.
Updated seeding lists following the Northern Ireland Open:
— Matt (@ProSnookerBlog) November 17, 2019
Currently holding onto the coveted positions are former runner-up Joe Perry, 2011 champion Ding Junhui, and two-time World Championship finalist Ali Carter.
Perry’s run to the semi-finals in Belfast provided him with a timely boost of £20,000 to add to his tally in the provisional rankings.
Ding, by contrast, took nothing away from the Waterfront Hall after another dismal outing resulted in him being dumped out in the first round.
The Chinese superstar has played in every Masters since reaching the final on his third appearance in 2007 but will likely need at least a couple of wins in the UK Championship to safeguard his return.
Carter is only £4,250 behind him in the pecking order with Stephen Maguire a further £5,000 back in the brutal 17th spot.
It’s likely that the spots will be occupied by three out of these four contenders, but there are permutations to permit players further back with an opportunity to make a late charge and break into the bracket.
Gary Wilson could potentially force his way into the top 16 with a run to the last four while appearances in the final would likely prove to be enough for Graeme Dott, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, or Yan Bingtao.
In fact, with £200,000 on offer for the UK champion, any competitor all the way down to Fergal O’Brien in 67th place in the provisional world rankings could in theory still crash the party.
All of these players will be looking for a minor miracle, though, and could seek help from some of these inspirational quotes from sports stars from past and present.
The UK Championship, which begins next Tuesday, is inevitably going to be one of the most highly anticipated ranking events of the season but the Race to the Masters will add an extra spice of interest to proceedings.
Live coverage of the UK Championship will be on the BBC and Eurosport.