Ronnie O’Sullivan claims he is as important to snooker as Tiger Woods is to golf as he bids to clinch a fifth Betfair World Championship title today.
The 37-year-old found himself in a battle and came up with the response of a gladiator to earn a 10-7 lead over Barry Hawkins in the Crucible final last night.
He requires a further eight frames to get his hands on the trophy again and become the first player since Stephen Hendry in 1996 to make a successful title defence in Sheffield.
The way O’Sullivan was roared into the arena for afternoon and evening sessions yesterday suggested the parallel to Woods stands up.
O’Sullivan believes golf lost its appeal when Woods was out of the game in late 2009 and early 2010 after the American’s marriage fell apart due to revelations of his affairs.
“When Tiger Woods had his time out, I didn’t want to watch golf unless Tiger was playing,” O’Sullivan said.
“In some ways, I think that’s what people would like from me: to play, whether I win or lose.”
O’Sullivan has threatened to retire before next year’s World Championship, but he was supposed to be missing this tournament too until making a late decision to enter. The suggestion that today will be his farewell to snooker’s most famous stage has to be considered in the context of many such warnings in the past.
Hawkins was making a real fight of his first experience of a World Championship final, but after battling his way back to 7-7 last night the 34-year-old world number 14 from Kent suffered an O’Sullivan onslaught.
Breaks of 103 and 106 were followed by O’Sullivan taking a dramatic last frame of the evening on the black to lead 10-7 overnight.
Hawkins had a 9-8 scoreline in his sights when he clipped in blue and pink, but he left O’Sullivan a long black and, to the defending champion’s relief, it found the heart of the pocket.
O’Sullivan claimed a place in the snooker history books as his four centuries - he made runs of 113 and 100 in the afternoon session – saw him edge two ahead of Stephen Hendry’s World Championship career record, which had stood at 127.
The highest number of centuries in a match at the Crucible stands at the six that Mark Selby made against Hendry two years ago, and that was under threat today as the best-of-35-frames tussle headed towards its conclusion.
O’Sullivan was comfortable with the expectation on his shoulders going into the match, even though he saw it as no help.
He said: “I suppose for the last 10 years I’ve been favourite for most games I’ve been in and I’ve been used to that position.
“But it doesn’t make the games any easier, sometimes it makes it more difficult because obviously if I do lose people will say it’s a big shock.”
The prospect of a shock happening looked to have diminished by the time both men left the Crucible last night, but after his gallant efforts Hawkins could not be counted out.