Byline: Trevor Baxter
PAUL Hunter achieved a dramatic 10-9 victory over Fergal O'Brien to capture the Benson and Hedges Masters snooker title in the early hours of this morning.
It was 12:32 am at Wembley Conference Centre when the 22-year-old Yorkshireman finally potted the balls that gave him the title and a pounds 175,000 first prize after taking a 46-minute decider 77-44.
Hunter looked out for the count when Irishman O'Brien led 7-3. He failed to reproduce the form that had taken care of Stephen Hendry in the semi-final.
But suddenly he found a spark of inspiration required to transform the contest. He snatched frame 11 on the pink and then fired in four centuries in six frames, including a tournament equalling high of 136, to take the lead at 9-8.
Hunter, the world No 14, then led 44-0 and the trophy looked to be heading back to Leeds.
However, back came O'Brien, whose semi-final win over Dave Harold only ended at 12:35 am yesterday morning, to force the decider.
It said everything about his durability that O'Brien managed to overcome tiredness to build a 6-2 first-session lead.
Both players had opportunities to reach the winning post but O'Brien missed the final green and then the blue as a free ball.
Hunter knocked in brown to pink, and the Masters crown was heading back to England after a four-year wait.
O'Brien collected $88,000 for a memorable week that included a win over world champion Mark Williams.
But like countryman Ken Doherty in 1999 and 2000, he had to settle for the runner-up prize.
Hunter's delight at winning the title was tempered by the news of a bereavement. Morrell Stevens, the father of last season's Masters winner and Hunter's stablemate Matthew Stevens, had died suddenly last Friday night, aged just 48.
Glaswegian teenager Stephen Maguire beat former Wembley semi-finalist Andy Hicks 5-0 in a qualifying round of the Thailand Masters at Newport at the weekend. He needs two more wins to qualify for the final stages in Bangkok next month.