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  Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 17:14 GMT
Williams favourite for Masters title
Mark Williams eyes up a shot
On the ball: Williams is the man the bookies fear
World champion Mark Williams has been installed as favourite to win the 2001 Benson and Hedges Masters.

But Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins are rated as close challengers for the tournament, which starts at the Wembley Conference Centre on Sunday.

Williams, who won the title in 1998, beating Stephen Hendry on a respotted black in the deciding frame, is quoted at 10-3 by official bookmakers William Hill.

O'Sullivan, who has already picked up three titles this season, is 7-2 joint second favourite along with Higgins.

Scottish legend Stephen Hendry, who spoke out on Wednesday in support of a tobacco- free sponsored circuit planned for next season by The Sportsmasters Network, is 11-2.

  B&H Masters odds
10-3 fav Williams
7-2 O'Sullivan, Higgins
11-2 Hendry
11-1 Doherty
14 Hunter, Stevens
16 Lee, Ebdon
28 McManus
40 Fu
50 White
66 O'Brien
80 Swail, Parrott, Hamilton
125 Harold
150 Murphy
Odds from William Hill

Defending champion Matthew Stevens, struggling to find his form in recent matches, is 14-1 to retain his title.

Irish ace Ken Doherty, runner-up in the last two Benson and Hedges Masters finals and a winner last Sunday of the Welsh Open in Cardiff, is quoted at 11-1.

The Masters, now in its 27th year, takes place at Wembley from 4-11 February.

The total prize money stands at a record 650,000, with the winner collecting 175,000.

The tournament hosts the world's top 16 players, together with two wild card entrants.

Teenager Shaun Murphy, who is only 19, qualified by winning the Benson and Hedges Championship at Malvern last November when he was ranked 150 in the world.

Jimmy White, who received the sponsors' invitation, will bring his army of fans to what he calls his local tournament. The Whirlwind's odds are 50-1.

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