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Page last updated at 22:15 GMT, Sunday, 20 February 2011

John Higgins beats Stephen Maguire to win Welsh Open

John Higgins

Higgins fights back to clinch Welsh Open title

By Mark Ashenden

John Higgins beat Stephen Maguire 9-6 with a crushing last-session display to secure back-to-back Welsh Open titles.

Maguire dominated the afternoon but still only led 5-3 after several missed opportunities that allowed Higgins, who knocked in a 120, to keep in touch.

Still the chances came for Maguire but the world number one was ruthless as he rattled off five frames in a row.

Maguire stopped the rot with a 75 but his fellow Scot fired in a 54, 66 and 72 to secure his third crown in Wales.

Despite Higgins' sloppy start to his 37th ranking final, it was a typical gutsy display, interspersed with the occasional fireworks, and one that was filled with emotion, playing only two weeks after his father John died of cancer.

I had him down and when you've got him down you have to stamp on him

Stephen Maguire

Victory also had the 35-year-old joining Stephen Hendry as a three-time winner of the Welsh Open and, perhaps more importantly, handing him a 23rd ranking title - one more than arch rival Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Higgins, who followed up his Welsh triumphs in 2000 and 2010, told BBC Sport: "My dad was here last year and we had a great party. I'm sure we'll have another great party tonight with my family and we'll toast him up in the sky.

"It was a fantastic final. At 5-2 I remember a long pink and it was do or die. I missed it and the way he was playing I was expecting him to go on but I made it 5-3, which was a massive frame.

"I had to rely on Stephen missing a few and luckily I dug in and cleared up the frames."

It had been a smooth passage to the final for the current UK champion, dropping only six frames since surviving his one big test in the opening round when he came through a last-frame decider against teenager Jack Lisowski.

Hard work is key for Higgins

But he needed to be on top of his game in the latter stages on Sunday, playing a man who had progressed in Newport with wins over Stephen Hendry, local boy Mark Williams and then Mark Selby in their thrilling last-frame decider in the semi-final.

Maguire, 30 in March, had been eyeing his first major piece of silverware since winning the China Open three years ago and looked in fiery mood as he knocked in a 59 and 53 to seal the first two frames.

The 'Wizard of Wishaw' hit back with a dazzling 120 - his 459th professional ton - but his close friend and practice partner was in irresistible form as he scored an 89 to open up a 3-1 lead, missing only one pot out of 72 in those four frames.

However, just as he looked to be closing in on a three-frame advantage, a rare slip on 58 allowed Higgins to pounce and clear up with a 72 to leave his opponent stunned.

The former world number two settled though and swiftly made it 4-2 with a run of 76 and the lead was stretched to three after edging a scrappy seventh frame. However, the momentum of this battle of the Scots was about to change.

The upper hand was again with Maguire but after a cruel kick when on 18, he booted the table leg in frustration knowing what may follow as Higgins secured a knock of 70 to get within two at 5-3.

Coming only two months after recovering from a 9-5 deficit to beat Mark Williams and lift the UK crown, Higgins was again at his battling best, coming out for the evening session in determined mood.

Stephen Maguire
Maguire looks back to his best form after a stuttering three years

The 35-year-old fought back the tears after re-emerging at the Newport Centre to a standing ovation and remained remarkably composed to steal the night's opener after an error-ridden ninth frame.

Having seen his opponent stride ahead with a 30 break, Higgins faltered with the rest on the last red but was again back at the table when Maguire missed the crucial pink to coolly sink the last two balls and get within one frame.

Worse was to come for Maguire, who played a reckless red when leading 48-1, and he was soon fuming in the chair as his opponent cleared up with a 63 to level the scores for the first time in the match at 5-5.

A wild shot on a red had Maguire throwing away another healthy lead and it was not long before Higgins secured a fifth frame in a row with a 75 to leave the world number seven extremely glum and trailing 7-5.

Although Maguire stopped the rot with a 75, the misery soon continued as his opponent piled on the points with a 54 and 66 to start sniffing victory.

Maguire made a terrific fight of it in the 15th frame and got the two required snookers after Higgins knocked in a 72 but the wife and mother of the three-time world champion were soon cheering as their tearful man wrapped up his second ranking trophy of the season.

"I lost it in the first session even though I was leading 5-3," stated Maguire. "I had him down and when you've got him down you have to stamp on him. He kept clearing up and it's hard to take.

"It's my first final for a while, I'm just happy to be competing - even though I lost here I competed hard this week and maybe in the next tournament I'll be better."

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see also
Higgins & Maguire in Welsh final
19 Feb 11 |  Snooker
Williams beaten in quarter-finals
18 Feb 11 |  Snooker
Hendry beaten despite 147 maximum
17 Feb 11 |  Snooker
O'Sullivan upset by Day in Wales
16 Feb 11 |  Snooker
Higgins overcomes Lisowski test
14 Feb 11 |  Snooker
Higgins's father dies of cancer
04 Feb 11 |  Snooker

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