The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
There were widespread changes and updates made during the 2016/17 snooker season – some of which were well received, and some that were very much not.
For the previous six seasons, there had been the Players Tour Championship series of pro-am tournaments that boasted minor-ranking event status.
The influx of these weekend-long competitions provided more opportunities to compete for those on the Main Tour, and it resulted in unlikely champions such as Barry Pinches, Rory McLeod, and Rod Lawler.
Even so, the majority of these events were still dominated by the usual stars, with Marks Selby and Allen enjoying particular success having recorded a dozen triumphs between them on the series.
But ahead of the 2016/17 snooker season, the PTC setup was scrapped and a decision was made in which the surviving tournaments – including the Riga Masters, Paul Hunter Classic, and Gibraltar Open – would all be upgraded to full ranking event status.
A new Home Nations series was also added to the schedule, with week-long tournaments in England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland formed to coincide with the well-established Welsh Open in Cardiff.
There was an additional incentive for any player who could achieve the unlikely feat of capturing all four Home Nations titles in the same campaign – with a headline-grabbing £1 million bonus on offer.
While many sniggered at that somewhat ridiculous jackpot, the Home Nations series was actually considered a huge success as it took snooker back to the likes of Glasgow and Belfast.
The final of the Northern Ireland Open was particularly memorable, as an emotional Mark King realised a career-long ambition of capturing a ranking crown when he denied Barry Hawkins in a 9-8 epic that is regarded as one of the finals of the decade.
King wasn’t the only first-time ranking event champion during the 2016/17 snooker season, and this was definitely a period in which the list of best players to have never won a ranking title was thrown wide open.
This streak of winners actually began about a year earlier when Joe Perry secured his maiden glory in the 2015 PTC Grand Finals, and it continued into 2016 when Liang Wenbo jumped with elation upon claiming the English Open crown in October.
Less than four months later, another heartwarming success story transpired when Anthony Hamilton defied his tender age of 45, not to mention a tender back, to finally break his own ranking event duck.
The Sheriff had long been considered as the best player to have never won a ranking title, but brilliant victories over top 16 regulars Mark Williams, Selby, Hawkins, and Stuart Bingham helped him through to a first final in 15 years, where he duly overcame World Open champion Ali Carter in front of the ever-tremendous Tempodrom crowd.
Anthony McGill had also joined the winners’ circle with his early-season Indian Open triumph, but it was his success in another tournament that had the keyboard warriors out in force.
A change to the Snooker Shoot Out that allowed all 128 Main Tour players to participate resulted in its upgrading to full ranking event status as well.
It’s fair to say that the decision divided opinion, with many traditionalists lambasting a peculiar move to open up a competition that didn’t even incorporate all of the game’s familiar rules.
The Shoot Out had been on the calendar since 2011 and fans had grown accustomed with the shot clocks, ball-in-hand, and boisterous crowds that came to be associated with the booze-filled weekend of single-frame action.
But awarding it with a more prestigious status was a step too far for most, with eventual champion McGill even stating that “in no way should this be a ranking tournament.”
Even though there was a rise in the number of first-time champions, the 2016/17 snooker season still provided enough opportunities for members of the normal cast of marquee names.
Neil Robertson conjured up his now usual victory in the season opener, on this occasion capturing June’s Riga Masters in Latvia, while Judd Trump denied Ronnie O’Sullivan in a gripping inaugural European Masters title decider in Romania before adding the Players Championship crown for good measure.
Ding Junhui, Stuart Bingham, Marco Fu, and Barry Hawkins each shared a ranking victory between them, but with a record 19 ranking events now on the calendar there was a distinct opportunity for a player to exert a degree of dominance.
So it proved, with reigning world champion Mark Selby proceeding to equal Ding and Stephen Hendry’s record of landing five ranking crowns in a single term.
Selby won the Paul Hunter Classic in August and was a consistent winner for the rest of the campaign, adding silverware in lucrative editions of the International Championship, UK Championship, and the China Open ahead of his Crucible defence.
Then at the 2017 World Snooker Championship the Jester lost only 11 frames en route to the last four, where he held off the tough challenge of Ding for a second successive year in Sheffield courtesy of an absorbing 17-15 semi-final success.
The final was against John Higgins, who had been one of the few other players to win several times during the 2016/17 snooker season – although funnily enough, not in ranking tournaments.
Higgins captured the inaugural China Championship in Guangzhou that was initially staged as an invitational, and a week later in November overcame Ronnie O’Sullivan by the same 10-7 scoreline to claim the Champion of Champions crown.
The Scot prevailed in the Championship League too, so when he entered the 2017 World Championship a fifth world success was very much on the cards.
But Selby was almost robotic at this point in his career, and the Englishman was proving practically unbeatable when he reached the latter stages of a major competition.
An 18-15 victory gave the runaway world number one his third world title in four years and underlined his credentials as one of the all-time greats of the game.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, peculiarly ended the 2016/17 snooker season having not captured a single ranking title despite the rise in the number of opportunities available.
The Rocket’s mental struggles at the Crucible continued, but one tournament in which he rarely struggled was the Masters, and a 10-7 triumph over Perry in January took his tally of titles in London to a record seven.
It marked the first time that a player had defended the Masters crown since Paul Hunter’s back-to-back successes in 2001 and 2002 – fitting, considering the 2017 edition was the first time that the Masters winner was handed the Paul Hunter Trophy in honour of the late star from Leeds.
Featured photo credit: WST