Professional Snooker - 2016 Ladbrokes Players Championship Grand Finals
22nd-27th March 2016 / Event City, Manchester, England
PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
They've travelled to Latvia, Germany, China, Bulgaria, Gibraltar and Poland for the opportunity to compete in next week's series ending Players Championship Grand Finals in Manchester.
It looks set to be the last time this event will be held under this qualification system and banner with the winding down of the European Tour next season; although I do expect something to replace it in parallel with the newly formed 'Home Series'.
Using an accumulative 'Order of Merit' with prize money gained, the tournament features the top 32 performing players from the Euro and Asian Tour events this campaign.
Only results from the seven qualifying outings count, therefore, despite being an exciting and varied field, there are some high profile absences.
Ronnie O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson's were through choice - as neither played in any of the before mentioned competitions, they could never be eligible.
However, top stars such as John Higgins, Stuart Bingham, Joe Perry and Stephen Maguire all finished the wrong side of the cut.
Despite being Number 1 on the World Grand Prix list only last week, Higgins, along with countryman Maguire and World Champion Bingham, have not had the relevant results on this circuit. Even last year's PCGF winner Joe Perry was not protected, and will be unable to defend his title here.
Probably not surprisingly, the top 6 in the list are all the different individual champions from the Euro series.
Here is my quick lowdown at the draw for this £350,000 tournament...
Number 1 seed is World Number 1 Mark Selby. The most successful player from this PTC type era took the last staging at the Gdynia Open in Poland at the end of last month to take top spot.
He'll face 17th placed Andrew Higginson, a player who lost to Selby a few weeks ago in the semi-finals in Poland. (STOP PRESS - Selby withdraws due to personal reasons...see below)
A tricky section of the draw with consistent rising stars Ben Wollaston and Jimmy Robertson squaring off, an all Welsh tie with major winners Mark Williams v Dominic Dale, and newly crowned World Grand Prix champion Shuan Murphy taking on Liang Wenbo.
Bulgarian Open and Ruhr Open victors, Mark Allen and Rory McLeod, are the top seeds (4th and 5th respectively) here. Allen plays 32nd seed Mark Davis, whilst McLeod is paired with Mike Dunn; an opponent he beat on his way to his maiden pro ranking title last October.
All cueists in this section will feel they have a chance to emerge should they play well - Mark King v Sam Baird and Ryan Day v Kyren Wilson are also on the bill.
Hard to predict the outcome here...
December's Gibraltar Open winner (147 hero there too) and 3rd seed Marco Fu (Hong Kong) will face Alan McManus - Fu hasn't had the best set of results since this victory, as he tries to preserve his top 16 status for the Crucible next month.
Ali Carter was an extremely popular champion of the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany at the back end of last summer and he goes for more glory as he tackles Graeme Dott.
Judd Trump also lurks in this section, but he is involved in perhaps the stand out tie of the round against in-form Martin Gould.
The other fixture is Tom Ford (Riga Open runner-up) v Ricky Walden. Out of form Walden fell well outside the qualifying places on the Euro list, but because of his run to the final in the Haining Open (the only Asian Tour outing this season) he appears here courtesy of the AT list.
Barry Hawkins was the champion of the first event, The Riga Open, way back in July/August. He also held top spot in the OOM until Selby overtook him at the last possible avenue. He meets dark horse Michael Holt.
Like Walden, Ding Junhui would not be here if it wasn't for the Haining Open - which he won, although he did only enter Gibraltar and Poland.
Ding continues to show signs of strength after good runs in the Welsh Open and WGP, but is still currently just shy of an automatic World Championship berth in the provisionals. China's number 1 is pitched up with David Gilbert.
Completing this quarter is a tasty tie between Michael White and Luca Brecel, and Asia's fourth representative here, Tian Pengfei, plays Robert Milkins.
Since writing this article, Selby has withdrawn because of personal problems and is set to miss this, and the China Open.
He will be replaced by the next man in line, Matthew Selt, whilst Daryll Hill will receive a bye into the Last 64 in Beijing.
He is due to still take his place in the World Championship.
We wish Mark all the best.
The Ladbrokes Players Championship Grand Finals will be shown live again on ITV4; their concise coverage continues to impress me.
However, the format and set-up is absolutely identical to last week's World Grand Prix. Even with the same sponsor, it may be difficult to distinguish the difference for the most casual of snooker followers.
Although, this year's PCGF sees an increase in the distance of the semi-finals and finals; in previous times the whole event has been best of 7.
Who will walk away with the £100,000 winners pot? Let us know on our Facebook page 'The Cue View' or on Twitter @ViewCue
Written and published by Michael Day on the 18th March 2016