All-time great Mark Williams began his 32nd season as a professional by reaching the second stage of the BetVictor Championship League Snooker – Ranking Edition with a hat-trick of victories at the Morningside Arena in Leicester on Friday.
Williams, 48, completed a clean sweep in Group 6 by whitewashing fellow Welshman Dylan Emery 3-0 in his final match. He made two centuries and six half century breaks in the nine frames he won during a vintage display of potting and break-building.
The three-times world champion opened his account with a swift 3-0 defeat of Polish amateur Daniel Holoyda, helped by breaks of 101 and 78.
Williams then won the first frame against Ken Doherty on a re-spotted black before a second century, 121, put him 2-0 up. The Irishman dominated the third but Williams made 92 to wrap up a 3-1 victory.
Emery had beaten Doherty 3-0 and Holoyda 3-1 so could still win the group with victory over Williams, but experience told in the decisive match as the 24-time ranking event winner fired in contributions of 86, 92 and 56 to coast into the last 32.
“I’m a bit surprised because my cue hasn’t come out the case for a while, but I played good stuff,” said Williams, who headed to the airport to catch a flight to Ireland where his youngest son, Joel, is competing in a junior event.
“He’s enjoying it,” Williams said. “You never know, one day he might be good enough to turn pro, but he’s only ten so we’ll see if he sticks with it.”
On the other table, Norwich veteran Barry Pinches made his vast experience tell to finish top of Group 27.
The 52 year-old defeated Belgium’s Julien Leclercq 3-1 before earning a crucial 2-2 draw with the group’s top seed, Jordan Brown, by fashioning a 71 clearance in the fourth frame.
Pinches then beat Joshua Thomond 3-1 to put himself on seven points and ensure he could not be caught at the top of the table.
The Championship League is the first ranking event of the season and carries total prize money of £328,000.
The eventual winner on July 21 will earn a place in the prestigious Champion of Champions event in Bolton from November 13-19.
Among the players in action next week are 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham, last season’s German Masters winner Ali Carter and reigning Welsh Open champion Robert Milkins. Former world champions Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy enter the fray the following week.