John Higgins joined The Crucible greats last night as he completed an 18-9 world championship victory over Shaun Murphy to win a third title and join the illustrious trio who have won more than two at this venue. Success for the 33-year-old Scot brings a winner's cheque of £250,000.
More significantly for him, he said afterwards, is his elevation into the company of Stephen Hendry (seven world titles), Steve Davis (six) and Ronnie O'Sullivan (three). Higgins can also make a claim to be a more durable champion than that trio. He first won the title in 1998 and after victory in 2007 and last night, his three trophies have spanned 11 years.
Hendry won his titles between 1990 and 1999, Davis between 1981 and 1989 and O'Sullivan between 2001 and 2008. Only O'Sullivan of those will come here again with any sound chances of future victories, although Higgins' two wins in three years shows he still has the ability, stamina and will to win. "Amazing," said Higgins. "To win it a third time is just amazing." In a young man's game, he has shown these past 17 days that Sheffield can still be a country for old men.
His only match which could be described as routine was his first-round, 10-5 win over Michael Holt. He then came within inches of going out in the second round and quarter-finals but prevailed both times in 13-12 thrillers, beating Jamie Cope and Mark Selby respectively.
He then saw off O'Sullivan's conqueror, Mark Allen, only after the feisty young Ulsterman had pushed him hard in his semi-final. Along the way, Higgins made 10 centuries among 83 during the championship, a stunning total that smashed the old mark of 68, achieved in 2002 and 2007.
"To have beaten Cope, Selby and Allen, three of the best young talents in the game, and beating them by fighting fire with fire gave me confidence coming into this final against Shaun," Higgins said. "I'm proud of what I've achieved. Those four guys there could feasibly be top four in the world one year not too soon."
Pre-tournament, O'Sullivan had said that if he did not win himself, the only other person he could see winning was Higgins. "Ronnie says a lot of stupid things," laughed Higgins. "But that's turned out to be one of his cleverer remarks." Higgins added that the most pleasing thing about last night was to join the "three or more" club: "To be there with the best players who've ever lived makes this the most special title I've won."
Higgins held an 11-5 overnight lead and yesterday stretched his advantage to 16-8 before the evening session, and in the first frame last night he was well-placed for a 147, when the pack split badly. He nonetheless won the frame. Murphy took the next for 17-9, but it only delayed the inevitable. Higgins closed out the championship with a break of 73. Murphy, 26, the world No 3, made errors or suffered bad luck on key shots at big moments, and Higgins, now the oldest winner since 36-year-old Dennis Taylor in 1985, had punished him, as great champions do.