Snooker: Higgins itching to win third Masters title
JOHN Higgins has got the "seven-year itch" but it is nothing his wife Denise need worry about.
Instead Higgins hopes to bring home a £175,000 cheque from London on Sunday week as he trains his sights on the Betfair Masters title.
The 37-year-old Scot has triumphed twice at the Masters, in 1999 and 2006, and after the seven-year gap between those titles, and now the same wait for an elusive third, he believes it is high time he conquered all in London again.
Higgins starts among the favourites for the tournament that begins tomorrow - Judd Trump makes him the player to beat - as he targets his second trophy of the season.
And after a mixed set of results when the Masters was staged at Wembley, both at the Conference Centre and latterly the Arena, Higgins is hoping to complete a career hat-trick of victories now the tournament is settled at Alexandra Palace.
He knows all about the frustrating gap between his first and second titles, and the wait for number three, and said: "Maybe it's the seven-year itch.
"People say I've got a pretty poor record at the Masters but at the end of the day I've won it twice and lost in a couple of finals."
Ten first-round defeats in 18 appearances illustrates how Higgins suffers with inconsistency at the Masters, and he acknowledges his record is puzzling.
"It's a great tournament and you love to win it because it's one of the biggest but it's never really been a great tournament for me," he said.
"I'm really pleased it's at Alexandra Palace now. The Wembley Arena was pretty soulless. It's found a good home."
A Masters semi-final showing 12 months ago encourages Higgins, who has shrugged off a disappointing December that saw him exit the UK Championship in the second round at the hands of Mark Davis before tumbling out of an event near his Wishaw home when he lost his opener to Northern Irish amateur Jordan Brown.
"I'd have liked to have done well because I had family and friends there but to be brutally honest it was one of those where you just want to put the cue away," Higgins said.
He has bigger battles to fight, starting with Monday afternoon's tussle against Ali Carter.
Carter was runner-up at the World Championship and a semi-finalist at the UK Championship in 2012, despite having to battle Crohn's disease, the inflammatory bowel condition that also affects Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher.
Higgins has endless admiration for 33-year-old Essex man Carter, who has to carefully manage his diet to stave off severe pain.
Higgins said: "I know it's a serious illness that he's had to put up with.
"Over the last couple of years we've been travelling more and more so that probably makes it a little more difficult for him as well. Hats off to him.
"Ali will have been disappointed over Christmas that he didn't win the UK Championship, after letting it slip from 8-4 in his semi-final against Shaun Murphy.
"But he shouldn't beat himself up too much about it because Shaun played unbelievably to win 9-8. Ali knows he's playing well and you never get an easy game at the Masters."