The Race to the Masters is heating up with several players vying for the final spots.
Jack Lisowski has improved his chances of receiving another invitation to the Masters after a comfortable 6-2 victory over Farakh Ajaib in the UK Championship on Thursday.
The three-time ranking event runner-up has struggled for consistency in recent times but was at his free-scoring best as he romped to a first-round triumph with breaks of 132, 100, 84, 75, and 74.
Lisowski has leapfrogged Gary Wilson in the provisional Race to the Masters rankings list and now holds onto the coveted 16th and final qualifying place.
The 29 year-old has a buffer of £7,250 on the chasing pack that is led by Anthony McGill – the Scot having earned a 6-4 success over Steven Hallworth on day four of the UK Championship.
With £200,000 on offer for the champion in what is the biggest ranking event of the campaign so far, there is still plenty of snooker to be played before the final 16 spots are confirmed.
Meanwhile, defending UK champion Ding Junhui had little trouble in getting beyond his opening challenge in Milton Keynes.
The Chinese number one inflicted a 6-1 defeat on amateur Jamie Curtis-Barrett, before making headlines for his post-match comments on it being too soon to allow fans into snooker venues.
Following recent government announcements in England, there is a possibility that supporters could be able to attend the latter rounds of this year’s UK Championship at the Marshall Arena.
World number one Judd Trump and former finalist Mark Allen were the other marquee names in action, and both of them coasted to 6-1 victories as well.
It marks the first time since the UK Championship format became a flat draw for the 128 players on the Main Tour in 2013 that all 16 seeds have safely negotiated the first round.
Elsewhere, the performance of the day undoubtedly came from Matthew Selt, with the former Indian Open winner tallying an incredible five century breaks in whitewashing Amine Amiri.
Selt joins Fergal O’Brien and Judd Trump as the only players to have managed the feat in a best-of-11 contest after his contributions of 138, 131, 111, 101, and 100.
Among the others to make it through their initial tests were Chinese foursome Liang Wenbo, Xiao Guodong, Tian Pengfei and Lu Ning – the latter ousting former world champion Ken Doherty.
Doherty’s young Irish compatriot Aaron Hill also bowed out early after a 6-3 reverse against Kurt Maflin, while there were wins for Igor Figueiredo, Alexander Ursenbacher, and Elliot Slessor.
There will be a rest day on Friday before play resumes with the beginning of the last 64 on Saturday.
Live coverage of the UK Championship is on the BBC, Eurosport, and via various other global services.
Featured photo credit: WST