Ronnie O’Sullivan, never far away from a headline, enters the LG Cup in Preston tomorrow denying recent reports he has become a Muslim.
O’Sullivan was said to have converted to Islam after visiting a mosque in London.
But the former world champion and world number one has now rejected any such suggestions.
O’Sullivan, who meets Stoke potter Dave Harold for a place in the last 16, says: “I am privileged with the friendships of Muslims who have been there for me and who I value as true friends.
"But I am not a Muslim,” added the controversial Essex professional.
“I am interested in Islam but I’m also interested in Buddhism and Christianity. Perhaps I have been a bit naive and given people the wrong impression. And if I have, I’m sorry.
“I went along to a mosque because I’m interested in Islam but I didn’t know anyone who would be interesting in converting me.
“Even when they called me to the front of the mosque I didn’t know what was happening. They were very friendly and, in my ignorance, I thought it was just a social thing.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to offend people and I just thought I’d keep everyone happy then politely leave. But now I know differently.
“Everyone knows I’m not the most disciplined of people so I suppose that’s why the press thought it was a good story.”
Harold set up his meeting with the ‘Rocket’ after beating David Roe 5-3 yesterday.
The LG Cup is one of the few trophies missing from O’Sullivan’s collection. In fact, only two players have their names engraved on the trophy – Stephen Lee and Chris Small.
Title holder Small came through a near four-hour marathon against Lancastrian Stuart Pettman, recovering from 4-1 down and 49-8 down in the decider to win 5-4.
A match that started at 8.45 last night finally concluded at 1.15 this morning.
“At one stage I wanted to smash the balls from the back of the pack and just get out of there,” admitted the 30-year-old Scot, who beat O’Sullivan in last year’s tournament.
“I’m a battler but at 4-1 down I thought I was on my way home. However, Stuart was starting to struggle to get over the winning line. And I felt if I could put some pressure on him I might have a chance.”
World number 18 Small now plays Paul Hunter or Stuart Bingham for a place in the last 16.
World Championship semi-finalist Hunter, John Higgins and 2001 LG Cup winner Lee are among the stars in action on day three.
Higgins didn’t win a title last season and is keen to make amends in the opening tournament of this campaign while Lee lost both his LG and Scottish Open crowns last term without too much of a fight.
Lee also has two more mouths to feed this season after the births over the summer of twins Ronnie and Alfie.
The Wiltshire professional tackles former World and UK champion John Parrott while Higgins meets another Alfie, Londoner Alfie Burden.