John Higgins ended his three-year wait for a ranking title by capturing the British Open crown with a 9-6 victory over fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in Brighton tonight.
Higgins, beaten in his last six finals, roared back to his best to pocket the Â£30,000 top prize and his 25th major title. It capped a memorable week for the 29-year-old who had been ready to pull out of the event if his heavily pregnant wife Denise went into labour.
But they both made it through to the end and Higgins was able to dash to the airport straight after his victory ready for an early morning doctor's appointment.
"That's probably the most important title I've ever won," Higgins said. "When I first started winning tournaments 10 years ago they came in a steady stream but when you haven't won one for three years you start to doubt yourself.
"When I was watching the Grand Prix last month, and how well Ronnie O'Sullivan played, I couldn't see any way of getting back to that sort of form. But it just shows it can happen and what was pleasing was that I played some of my best ever snooker."
Maguire, 23, had reached the final, with a stunning 6-1 defeat of world champion O'Sullivan on Saturday. He opened up against Higgins with a break of 71 but fell 3-1 adrift at the first interval as his compatriot reproduced the form that saw him whitewash Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals.
Higgins, appearing in his first ranking final since the LG Cup 13 months ago, made a break of 100 in the third frame as he established his two-frame advantage. Maguire hit back, though, with runs of 72, 55 and 76 to lead 4-3 before Higgins ended the opening session with an effort of 53 to make it 4-4.
At 5-5, Higgins upped his game as he fired in successive breaks of 144 and 107 to go two frames clear again. A 68 made it 8-5 and Higgins clinched victory two frames later with a run of 97.
"I played very well to go from 5-5 to 7-5," he said. "Stephen is such a tough opponent and he played really well all week. He'll be winning tournaments on a regular basis in the future. Ronnie called him one of the best young players in the world but he's actually one of the best players full stop." Maguire, who won the European Open last season, rises to seventh in the provisional rankings after another impressive week.
He said: "I'm a little bit disappointed because when you reach a final you want to win but John played really well. At least I didn't freeze in the final. John looked so good, he hasn't won for a few years but I practise with him a lot and I knew he'd be back."
Higgins won his first ranking title at the 1994 Grand Prix and captured 14 more until his form deteriorated following the birth of his first son, Pierce.
Low on confidence, he made alterations to his cue and changed his stance but, aside from the 2002 Irish Masters, the title drought continued. It got so bad that at one point last season Higgins ruefully described himself as an "also ran". Having sunk to 10th in the provisional rankings before Brighton, the 1998 world champion was feeling down but the imminent birth of his second child took his focus off the tournament, to the extent that he was considering pulling out if it arrived during the event.
Higgins was also benefiting from having three quarters of an inch taken off the end of his cue, which has shortened his action and, he claims, eradicated many unforced errors.