Neil Robertson believes snooker is ready for its equivalent of a Tiger Woods comeback as Ronnie O’Sullivan prepares to make his long-awaited return to action.
When Woods took time out of golf to deal with off-course personal problems, following his infidelities and the breakdown of his marriage to Elin Nordegren in late 2009, all the focus was upon him when he returned almost six months later for the Masters.
Woods has had an unfortunate series of lay-offs, and each time he springs back to tournament competition the spotlight falls on him, and stays there.
It will be a similar story for O’Sullivan when he picks up his cue for snooker’s own Masters, at Alexandra Palace in January, returning to action after almost nine months away at a tournament he has won five times.
O’Sullivan last played a competitive match at the World Championship in April, losing to eventual winner Stuart Bingham in the quarter-finals. He has cited factors including insomnia for his absence, and has been most recently working as a Eurosport pundit.
He did not defend either his Champion of Champions trophy, or the UK Championship, both of which Robertson landed to claim prize-money of almost £300,000 inside a month.
Now Robertson, who clinched the UK title in York on Sunday night by defeating Liang Wenbo 10-5, fancies adding the Masters title to his growing haul.
But 40-year-old O’Sullivan’s comeback adds an extra frisson to proceedings.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing him (O’Sullivan) and I’ve got a pretty decent record against him as well,” said Robertson. “But coming back to the Masters, that’s his event - everyone associates the Masters with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
“I think the players did really well in York and played some amazing snooker in Ronnie’s absence, but obviously he’ll be the talking point when he comes back, similar to Tiger Woods in golf a couple of years ago.
“The game is definitely better off with him in it, but there’s a lot of great players coming through and a lot of good characters like Liang Wenbo.”