John Higgins continued his apparent resurgence in form with a 4-0 victory over Martin Gould in the Welsh Open on Wednesday.
The five-time champion compiled breaks of 97, 89, 68, and 66 in a one-sided drubbing of the Pinner Potter in Llandudno.
Higgins has endured a mostly torrid 2022/23 campaign up until this point and is way down the one-year ranking list.
The Wizard of Wishaw needs to win the Welsh Open for a record sixth time in order to qualify for next week’s Players Championship.
While reaching the last 32 of a ranking event represents just one round shy of his best performance this season, there have been some positive signs of a return to form of late.
Higgins played well in last week’s Championship League to win Group 5, and he contributed a brace of centuries in his heldover fixture against Alexander Ursenbacher this week.
“That’s the scoring I’ll have to try to reproduce for the rest of the tournament if you’ve to go deep,” John Higgins told the World Snooker Tour.
“Two tough matches against Alexander and Martin, so I’m pleased to get through.”
“It’s a great place to come. I brought my wife down and we spent Valentine’s Day together, we’ve done a bit of sightseeing.
“It’s a lovely place to come. It’s better than most of the places we go during the year, so I’m just relaxing and enjoying it.
“There’s some big events coming up. Obviously it’s long odds that I might be in the Players Championship and Tour Championship.
“But aside from that, I’ve got the Championship League Winners’ Group, the Six Reds, and the WST Classic.
“There are some big events to try and get your game ready to go to Sheffield and give a good account of yourself.
“When you’re maybe struggling with your game mental wise, you’re looking for little nuggets or little bits of advice from players who have been there and done it.
“It’s a tough sport, and I’ve always sort of been one of the guys throughout the whole tour who has kind of been myself, kept to myself. Sometimes it can get on top of you.
“A lot of people are coming out, and rightly so, speaking about mental healthy. A lot of people struggling with their game and different things.
“That’s the society now that people are coming out, and it’s good that people are speaking.
“If they are struggling, there is help out there, and every credit to them for doing that. It’s a tough sport.
“My focus here is to just try to hit the ball a little better, a bit more solid, and play as well as I can.
“I’m not thinking about what might happen (next week with the Players Championship). Whatever happens, happens. I just came here to try to play well.”
Meanwhile, Mark Allen and Judd Trump were among the other star names to reach the last 32 of the competition at the Venue Cymru.
Allen was far from his best but relied on his experience to come through against Mitchell Mann, while Trump took advantage of some sloppy mistakes from opponent Louis Heathcote to win 4-2.
Jack Lisowski, Barry Hawkins, and recent German Masters champion Ali Carter overcame Ryan Thomerson, Ben Woollaston, and Ian Martin respectively.
Later on day three, the round of 32 got under way with reigning champion Joe Perry and world number two Mark Selby both crashing out.
Perry was dismissed by Robbie Williams while Selby bowed out following a 4-2 reverse against Robert Milkins.
World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan had more tip trouble but managed his frustrations to ultimately prevail 4-0 against Rod Lawler.
Young Chinese pair Pang Junxu and Yuan Sijun reached the last 16 with respective triumphs over Aaron Hill and Dominic Dale.
Welshman Jak Jones gave the home crowd something to cheer about with his 4-2 success against Belgium’s Julien Leclercq, while the latter’s countryman Ben Mertens edged David Gilbert in a decider.
A busy day on Thursday will see the remaining round of 32 matches first take place before the quarter-finalists are determined during the evening session.
Welsh Open last 32 draw
Robbie Williams 4-1 Joe Perry
Joe O’Connor 4-0 Stuart Carrington
Pang Junxu 4-1 Aaron Hill
Jak Jones 4-2 Julien Leclercq
Judd Trump vs Daniel Wells
Shaun Murphy vs Anthony McGill
David Lilley vs Jack Lisowski
Yuan Sijun 4-1 Dominic Dale
Robert Milkins 4-2 Mark Selby
Barry Hawkins vs Hossein Vafaei
Cao Yupeng vs Luca Brecel
Andy Hicks vs Mark Allen
John Higgins vs Sanderson Lam
Tian Pengfei vs Ali Carter
Ben Mertens 4-3 David Gilbert
Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-0 Rod Lawler
Live coverage of the Welsh Open is available on Eurosport and BBC Wales. Other options around the world are available (information here).
Featured photo credit: WST