STUART BINGHAM is looking forward to his Masters return – but admits he could not have a bigger first hurdle to overcome.
Ballrun, who missed last year’s event because of a ban, starts on Monday (Jan 14) at 1pm in front of a sell-out Ally Pally crowd against seven-time Masters champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Bingham said: “It’s the elite 16 and it would be special to win it. It is the biggest invitation event and, in terms of titles I’d still like to win, it has got to be joint second for me with the UK.
“It will be tough of course starting off against Ronnie and I think the key for me will be enjoying it.
“I’ll probably only have one or two percent of the crowd on my side.
“I played him a few years ago in the semis there and it can get a bit off-putting if, say, the white is going near the pocket and people are shouting, ‘get in’. But that’s what you have to deal with the backing he gets.
“But I feel like my game is there and I was gutted to lose in the semis at the UK before Christmas as I felt as if I could have given him a good run in that final.
“But it will be tough, I think my record is something like 14-3 in his favour, so that’s what I’m up against.
“And it was hard missing the Masters last year. It was the first time I’d missed it since moving into the top 16 in 2011.
“I did watch it just to get the vibes back for the game a bit but I can hopefully make amends for that this year.”
Bingham will arrive at the Masters in good form after booking his place in the Championship Winners’ Group at Barnsley Metrodome on March 13-14.
Ballrun beat world No 1 Mark Selby in the Group 4 final at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on Thursday evening after other notable wins over others including Ali Carter and Luca Brecel.
Bingham said: “It is an event I won in 2015 and I’m glad to get through again.
“I don’t know how I won my first frame against Luca, I maybe had a bit of the rub at the right time.
“But I kicked on and felt good all day after that and I felt my game was in good shape.”