COUNTDOWN: Who is the best player to never win a ranking title now?

This season is getting better more unpredictable, isn’t it? We’ve had a number of big wins and we can talk about the over-40s dominating the game, but we have had four first-time ranking event winners already. First, we had Anthony McGill (Indian Open), Liang Wenbo (English Open), Mark King (Northern Ireland Open) and now the Sheriff of Pottingham.

For those snooker fans who believe that Barack Obama is still the President, Anthony Hamilton won the German Masters by lifting the most expensive bowl to put fruit in. This also means he has finally free from the tag of being “the best player to never win a full ranking event.” Now he has won it, who’s got the baton now? For the sake of this countdown, we will do players of the current modern era who have been around for such a long period of time we are all wondering why they haven’t got one.

Otherwise, we would have Joe and Fred Davis (their multiple world titles weren’t know as ranking events) and John Virgo and Patsy Fagan (who won the non-ranking event called the UK Championship) on the list! Tony Drago? Well, as well as not being on tour, I remember reading that he admitted he won the Strachan Open against John Higgins in the best-of-17 (different to the one in 1993 against Ken Doherty) -just need to find that damn article….

6. Robert Milkins

Milkins is one of those players that shows flashes of brilliance and then fades into the background for a long period of time. After recovering from his downward spiral that included drinking and a painful divorce, the Milkman rekindled his love of the game and since 2008 he steadily climbed up the rankings. One of the most naturally-gifted players on the circuit, he reached a career high of 12th in 2014 thanks to three semi-final performances in the Wuxi Classic, Australian Goldfields Open, and the World Open.

He has made five ranking semi-final appearances and is struggling to break that losing streak. He has made one minor-ranking event though, reaching the 2014 Ruhr Open final but to be whitewashed by Shaun Murphy 4-0. Recently, he has been plummetting to No.32, but with the Shoot-Out coming up and it suiting his quick and fast play, this could be his first soon…

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5. Joe Swail*

The Outlaw has a more decorated career people give credit for. Been in the Top 16 many times, one ranking final to his name (2009 Welsh Open, losing to Ali Carter 9-5), nine semi-finals and fourteen quarter-finals. This includes his biggest prize winnings of £73,000 when he reached the semi-finals of the 2001 World Championship, losing 17-11 to eventual winner Ronnie O’Sullivan. He lost his love for the game a few years ago, but got the hunger back when he reached the final of the then minor-ranking event Paul Hunter Classic, losing to Mark Selby 4-1. As an amateur. Damn.

Since then, he has got back on tour and reached up to No.53 in the rankings. This season however, he seems to be on a downward spiral, making a number of first-round losses. He needs to improve to retain his tour card. He is the least likely to get a title on current form out of this list but with the list of achievements in the sport, he could be up there.

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4. Robin Hull

In my opinion, he would’ve won a few ranking titles by now had it not been for such unfortunate circumstances. In the early noughties, he had been through the wars, such as losing the feeling of the right side of his body, suffering from viruses that doctors at the time couldn’t identify that whittled down to a brain tumour, a bleed or an infection and irregular heartbeats. After retiring from snooker a couple of times, he came back in 2013 and even for a low-ranked player made a big impression. He made two Crucible appearances in a row between 2014-2015 when he had to start from Round 1 of qualifying each time and of course, winning last year’s Shoot-Out against Luca Brecel.

Described as ‘wonderfully talented” by Steve Davis, the former U-21 champion has three ranking quarter-final appearances and four ranking Last 16 appearances to his name, with his recent best performance being the 2014 Wuxi Classic and reaching the Last 16 of this season’s German Masters. He still manages to beat the top players, beating Mark Williams, Luca Brecel and Michael White this season. Maybe he is the sort of player that benefits from longer matches, I’m not sure but after all he’s been through, I hope he wins a ranking event soon.

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3. Mark Davis

Out of the six players here, Mark Davis is certainly the most decorated. He has won five non-ranking titles, most recently beating Neil Robertson to lift the 2013 General Cup and Darren Morgan in the recent World Seniors Championship. He is also a three-time Six-red World Championship, beating Neil again as well as Shaun Murphy and Mark Williams. So it does seem strange that he couldn’t repeat the same success in ranking tournaments.

Though he has never reached a ranking final, he has reached four semi-finals and numerous quarter-finals and even provided inspiration to other over-40s snooker players that they can reach the latter stages. His most successful season was in 2012/2013 when he reached three semi-finals in the UK Championship (losing to Mark Selby 9-4), the Wuxi Classic (losing to Stuart Bingham 6-5) and the Australian Goldfields Open (losing 6-4 to Barry Hawkins). This was also the same season he reached the Top 16 and made two successive Masters appearances. Now ranked No. 31 and 44 years-old, it is a wonder if he had reached his peak? Then again, Mark King was ranked No.35 for the Northern Irish Open and look how well he did!

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2. Michael Holt

Holt has won minor-ranking events before. He reached four of this finals and winning two: the 2010 Prague Classic against John Higgins and against Dominic Dale in Event 10 of Players Tour Championship 2011/2012, because they cannot be bothered with names apparently. Everyone including Holt himself that he has the skill to win a title but his weak mental temperament, stage fright, and inconsistencies let him down a tad. It was only until 2013 when he reached his first semi-final place in the Shanghai Masters, beating Judd Trump, Martin Gould, and Kyren Wilson along the way. Holt has always lamented of the being the ‘nearly man.’

But recently he’s been doing something about it. He started working with coach guru and former world champion Terry Griffiths since 2015 to avoid being a ‘broken record’ and since then he has become one of the most improved players on tour. He credited Griffiths for his winning his convincing opening Crucible match against Neil Robertson 10-6. This season, he reached his first ranking final in the Riga Masters 5-2 and beat Ronnie O’Sullivan three times in a row to reach two quarter-finals. Certainly, the one to look out for and probably the most likely out of this list to win a title.

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1. Ryan Day

It is a fairly predictable choice. After scouting this question around Twitter, his name always seems to come up the most. It was his consistency that got him to a career-high of No.6 in the rankings during the 2008/2009 season, probably the highest anyone has been without winning a ranking title. He has won a non-ranking event though – he beat Hugh Abernethy 9-5 in the 2001 Benson and Hedges championship but since then has struggled to make a breakthrough.

In his career, he has reached three ranking finals, three semi-finals and fourteen quarter-finals, won 60% of his matches and 269 century breaks according to CueTracker. The finals were in the 2007 Malta Cup, 2007 Shanghai Masters (where he went from leading 6-2 to losing 10-6 to Dominic Dale) and 2008 Grand Prix. His most recent final was the 2015 minor-ranking Bulgarian Open, so what has hindered him? His concentration? His bottle? Possibly he is just unable to topple the big guns such as John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and the like? He certainly has the break-building talent to win a title – in fact right now, he is in his third quarter-final this season in this year’s World Grand Prix against Shaun Murphy – with Fu, King (tee hee) and Liang or Hawkins potentially standing in his way. Could he do it? If not, will he win a ranking title? I reckon so, but only time will tell…..

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*This was added an hour after publishing. I had thought about him but wanted to stick to a Top 5. Now decided he is too good to not be on this list so I extended this list! With thanks to The Cue View (@ViewCue).

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