Mark Williams was among those suffering from annual bemusement at the timing of the Masters draw on Sunday.
Players were paired off for the 2023 edition of the prestigious event during the UK Championship final at the Barbican Centre in York.
The top 16 from the official world rankings list are invited to participate in what is regarded as the second biggest tournament on the calendar.
Conducting the draw at this time has been commonplace for several years, with the BBC taking the opportunity to promote their next live snooker event.
But every season it continues to baffle players and fans alike, who understandably can’t grasp the concept of confirming a lineup for such an important invitational event when more ranking points are to be played for in the intervening period.
Between now and the Masters in January, there are two titles to contest for with the Scottish and English Open winners to be determined in December.
With a top prize of £80,000 in both, it means that, in theory, Matthew Stevens all the way down in 48th place in the rankings could leapfrog his way into the top 16 before the Masters actually takes place.
That’s a drastic and unlikely example, but those just outside the top 16 will have bigger qualms about the cut-off point.
“Someone can win the Scottish and the English Open, be well in the top 16, and not get in the Masters,” Williams said on Twitter.
“Surely the cut-off should come after the last comp before the Masters.”
Williams, a two-time former Masters champion, will face Yan Bingtao at the Alexandra Palace in the first round.
The latter only held onto the last qualifying position thanks to Ding Junhui’s defeat to Mark Allen in the UK Championship final.
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As it is, Ding has elevated his ranking back up to number 19, and he’ll be hoping to continue his form in the next couple of weeks as he bids to rejoin the top 16 after a spell in the doldrums.
In terms of qualifying for the Masters his time is up, but there’s already been a couple of notable examples from campaigns past where the draw hasn’t accurately represented the current rankings.
“I missed out four years ago after winning the Scottish Open, and that put me 13th,” Neil Robertson replied to Williams on the social media channel.
Back in 2017, Robertson temporarily dropped out of the elite bracket after a disappointing run of form culminated in him exiting that year’s UK Championship early on.
But just a week later, the Australian triumphed in the Scottish Open to immediately bounce back into the top 16 a month before the 2018 Masters took place.
2023 Masters Draw
Neil Robertson vs Shaun Murphy
Kyren Wilson vs Stuart Bingham
Mark Allen vs Barry Hawkins
Judd Trump vs Ryan Day
Mark Selby vs Zhao Xintong
John Higgins vs Jack Lisowski
Mark Williams vs Yan Bingtao
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Luca Brecel
Last year a similar situation developed, with Luca Brecel combining with Zhao Xintong for a memorable UK Championship final that pitted two young hotshots against one another.
It was a marketing dream for the BBC, but with both ranked outside the top 16, only the champion was guaranteed to rise into the top 16 and gain a Masters spot.
Zhao won, leaving Brecel out in the cold. However, again just seven days later the Belgian was lifting the Stephen Hendry Trophy aloft to safeguard his own return to the top 16, albeit too late for that elusive slot in the Masters draw.
There’s an argument that it’s good for ticket sales to have the first-round matches known well in advance, but that’s hardly very relevant when it’s taken into consideration that the World Championship draw is made two days before its first day at the Crucible Theatre.
Staging the Masters draw after this year’s English Open would still have given the promotion team almost a month to shift tickets for specific matches to the audience.
For an event that is rightly regarded as the sport’s second most important, it’s not unreasonable to think that the appropriately ranked players should be involved.
It remains to be seen if there’ll be another scenario this season in which a potential contender misses out despite being ranked inside the top 16.
Let’s hope not, but either way the timing of the Masters draw every year should change.
Featured photo credit: WST