If Barry Pinches shocks Stephen Hendry in the last 16 of the Malta Cup tonight, expect thanks to be extended to Norwich bank manager Stephen Feeney.
Five years ago Pinches sought the advice of Feeney, who has developed the potting aid ‘Sight Right’, and ever since his once flagging career has been upwardly mobile.
Feeney’s invention also helped Steve Davis recreate the glory days when he reached the final of the UK Championship in December but ‘Sight Right’ is also used in Bowls, Darts and for putting by European Tour golfer Richard Finch, who finished fourth in last week’s Qatar Masters.
Pinches was among Feeney’s original devotees and swears by the simple yet apparently effective method for improving a player’s aim.
“I’m indebted to my coach Dave Deakes and to Stephen because I was really struggling and they’ve turned me around,” said Pinches, who has climbed the rankings in each of the last seven seasons to his current number 18 position, a personal best.
“In the back of my mind I felt my alignment wasn’t quite right so I asked Stephen to fix it and he did. It’s been tremendous for my safety play and long potting in particular.”
Safety was certainly important at the Portomaso Hilton Conference Centre last night as Pinches slogged away for two hours, 37 minutes before beating 10th seed Stephen Lee 5-1.
And keeping the exchanges tight will also be vital against defending Malta Cup champion Hendry, who fired in a record equalling quartet of century breaks on the way to an impressive 5-1 first-round victory over Neil Robertson on Tuesday.
Pinches acknowledges his status as the underdog but, having pushed Hendry to the limit only to lose 13-12 in the 2004 World Championship, will not be intimidated by his rival’s towering reputation.
“I’ve never played really well against a top player on television. That’s what I’m waiting for and hopefully that’s what I’ll do against Hendry,” said 35 year-old Pinches.
Three world champions and the ultimate Crucible nearly man flew home today after falling victim to younger, hungry opponents.
The biggest surprise was a 5-4 defeat for Davis at the hands of Finland’s top cueman Robin Hull.
As always, Davis fought hard, stealing the eighth frame on the black for 4-4 after needing a snooker.
He also required five snookers in the decider and laid four of them, but was denied the opportunity to pull off a great escape when a mightily relieved Hull fluked the last red.
Hull, a former world under-21 champion, goes forward to face Beckenham’s Barry Hawkins, who beat his boyhood hero Jimmy White 5-2.
Hawkins, a semi-finalist in October’s Grand Prix, had runs of 70, 63, 60 and an 81 in the closing frame.
“That’s the first time I’ve played Jimmy so to perform so solidly and grab a result like that in front of a packed house is very pleasing,” said Hawkins, a 26 year-old left-hander.
“ grew up watching Jimmy on telly in all of those big matches. To beat him is a real confidence booster.”
The third forty-something to fall at his opening hurdle was John Parrott, who sat out breaks of 79, 132 and 105 as he slipped to a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the suddenly in-form Scot Graeme Dott.
It was Dott’s first match win in a world ranking event since he reached the Malta Cup final at the same venue 12 months ago.
On a day littered with upsets, Peter Ebdon, the seventh seed, lost 5-4 to Stuart Bingham from 3-0 up and Ian McCulloch went down 5-2 against Mark King, leaving only eight members of the elite top 16 still standing.