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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 23:49 GMT
Golden Nugget
By Bryn Palmer

It was enough to give middle-aged men everywhere an extra spring in their step, not to mention an ailing sport a welcome shot in the arm.

The Steve Davis renaissance may have ended in defeat in the final to a man 30 years his junior, but the return of "The Nugget" was the undoubted story of this year's UK Championship.

A sportsman who people resented for his domination of the game in the 1980s, Davis, in his 27th year as a professional, is finding that everyone loves a good comeback.

The 48-year-old's run to the final in York evoked comparisons with golfing legend Jack Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters at the age of 46.

Despite returning to the game's elite top 16 in recent years, Davis was not expected to seriously challenge for the game's biggest prizes again.

It has been eight years since he last collected a title, the 1997 Masters, and 10 years since he won a ranking event.

When he failed to finish off Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Welsh Open final in January 2004, losing 9-8 after leading 8-5, it appeared his last hope of a tournament victory had gone.

Steve has been a breath of fresh air. It has been fantastic for the sport
Fellow player and commentator John Parrott
"I see myself as more of a part-timer these days," he admitted before last week's tournament, and the bookies agreed, making him a rank 150-1 outsider.

So what has sparked the revival of the six-time world champion, to the extent he is now provisionally back to number three in the world rankings?

A slight change of technique has brought more consistent results and a renewed confidence in his potting ability, particularly from distance.

A little-known snooker coach called Stephen Feeney, who also helps Norwich-based professional Barry Pinches, has helped Davis with his 'SightRight' device - designed to assist a player's shot alignment.

"At first I thought Stephen might be just another nutter but he's not," Davis said. "I started thinking about his theories in the summer and something just clicked.

Steve Davis lines up a pot at the UK Championship
Davis appears far more relaxed
"I have changed where I am looking from my head position. Instead of plonking my right foot down, I am using my cue to line up the shot first, and then my body. It seems to have worked."

His form in York was certainly of a level not seen from the old maestro for a long while.

He came through a tough opening match against Mark Allen 9-7 before playing brilliantly to win the last three frames against defending champion Stephen Maguire - "the best match I've been involved in for ages, if not ever in some respects".

That victory featured a break of 145 - Davis' highest since a maximum 147 at the 1983 Lada Classic in Oldham.

There then followed a 9-7 win over Ken Doherty, when he even indulged in a spot of fist-pumping after stealing a tight frame on the black.

The action prompted Dennis Taylor, commentating on the match, to utter: "You don't see that from Steve Davis very often! He's really psyched up!"

The adrenaline rush continued as he stormed into a 7-1 lead against Stephen Hendry before finally sealing a first victory over his old nemesis in nine years, 9-6 in the semi-finals.

"I felt confident of playing well this week," said Davis afterwards. "But if someone had told me I'd end up in the final I don't think I'd have believed them."

I don't have so much to lose, or so much to protect
Steve Davis
When Davis was in his pomp in the 1980s, he maintained a studious air of concentration, prompting the impression of a machine-like operator around the table.

These days he appears to revel in his role as an entertainer, an ever-expanding range of facial expressions evidence of a more relaxed approach to the game.

"I don't necessarily approach it the same way I used to," he said. "I've tried to take the heat off the need to win, so I treat it a bit like a hobby and probably enjoy it a bit more.

"I don't have so much to lose, or so much to protect."

But despite the outward show of exuberance, the competitive instinct that made him such a formidable opponent in the 1980s clearly still burns.

His odds for the World Championship, where he reached the quarter-finals for the first time since 1996 last year, have already been slashed to 40-1.

A seventh, record-equalling, world title at the age of 48? Now that really would be one for the golden oldie generation.

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25 Jan 04 |  Snooker

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