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Snooker: McCulloch excels on home ground

Ian McCulloch's dream of winning the Totesport Grand Prix in his home town moved a step closer to reality yesterday.

McCulloch will face Ireland's Michael Judge today for a place in tomorrow's final at the Preston Guild Hall, which is just a five-minute drive from his home. Yesterday he followed up victories over Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry by defeating the European Open winner Stephen Maguire.

"If I won a ranking tournament here it would be like my world championship," said the world No 17. "When you're a kid, it's just enough that you get a chance to play here. I was so proud when I played here for the first time against Jason Ferguson about seven years ago.

"There must have been about 500 watching today and it makes you proud that they've taken time out to come and watch you. But I'm not counting my chickens just yet - there's still another couple of matches to go." McCulloch is guaranteed £15,000 for reaching the penultimate round of snooker's first major event of the season.

His latest success included a 137 clearance to lead 4-1, but he also added breaks of 81, 73 and a decisive 55 in frame seven when the nerves began to show. A costly error by Maguire turned the contest McCulloch's way as the Scot missed the pink for a probable 2-0 lead and never really got back into the game. "I went for a crazy one and paid the price but I think today I was just a bit too cocky," said Maguire. "I didn't believe I was going to lose.

Judge, from Dublin, qualified for the first ranking tournament semi-final of his career by putting out Joe Perry 5-1. The world No 42, whose high spot was a fourth-frame century break which gave him a 3-1 interval lead, said: "That's the best I've played in the tournament. I didn't even play as well as that when I beat Mark Williams in the first round, so I'm delighted.

"Hopefully I can keep on improving and who knows what might happen? I have nothing to lose and the pressure is on all the other guys."