It's been eight long weeks since the last ranking tournament, when John Higgins beat Ali Carter in the Welsh Open final, and snooker fans will be delighted to finally see some action again when the Sanyuan Foods China Open starts in Beijing on Monday.
And guess who the favourite to win the event is? Of course, Ronnie O'Sullivan, with the 'Rocket' a best-priced 7-2 with Betfred and Coral among others to land the event for the fourth time in his career. His last victory came way back in 2000 when he thrashed Mark Williams 9-3 in the final, while his other triumphs came in 1996 (beating the forgotten Brian Morgan) and 1999.
I don't think this tournament currently ranks very high in his thoughts and he'll be mostly using it to hone his skills ahead of the World Championship in a couple of weeks' time and punters should look elsewhere.
There have been six different winners in Beijing in the last seven runnings of the competition – it was taken off the calendar between 2002 and 2005 – with O'Sullivan being joined on the winners' rostrum by Mark Williams (2), Ding Junhui, Graeme Dott, Stephen Maguire and Peter Ebdon.
Ebdon is an unbackable 40-1 to retain his trophy, while Higgins is second-favourite at 7-1 with Betfred, but having won the previous Welsh Open that almost definitely rules him out of the running as there are rarely back-to-back winners in the sport, plus he's in the tougher bottom half of the draw along with O'Sullivan, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Williams and Hong Kong's MARCO FU.
Marco Fu, I hear you gasp? He may have had a dreadful season and is clinging on to his top-16 spot by his fingernails, but his recent win in the Championship League Winners Group, thereby claiming the overall title and booking his place in next season's Premier League, has propelled him back into the spotlight, but seemingly kept him under the radar of the bookies, with Betfred and William Hill chalking him up at 50-1.
Okay, the Championship League may not be played under the same conditions or have the intense pressure as a ranking tournament, but his performances in beating Maguire 3-0 in the semi-final, where he made breaks of 111, 94 and 95, and in the final against Mark Allen, where he came from 2-0 down to win 3-2, with knocks of 94 and 134, suggest he has rediscovered his lost form and at such a big price he is definitely worthy of a flutter.
He was a shock loser in last year's first round, to a Chinese wildcard qualifier, but he previous season he beat O'Sullivan at the first hurdle so can turn it on against the best when needed. He opens up against either Belgian star Bjorn Haneveer or Liu Chuang and he should breeze into the second round. It gets tougher, but if his game is back on song, he could go far. Think back also to last year when Ebdon emerged from a serious slump in form to surprise everyone in beating Higgins to claim the title for the first time.
MAGUIRE'S been playing consistently well this season and at 14-1 he is well worth a second look, especially as he avoids both O'Sullivan and Higgins until the final, although he could come up against the tricky Allen in round two – if he gets past that stage it really opens up for him and each-way fanciers may want to get involved.
Mark Selby is only 17-2 with sportingbet and despite his obvious quality I would want better odds than that, while Ding is 9-1 and the two of them could come face-to-face in the second round, with preference for the Chinese star on home baize as Selby hasn't played competitively for two months and could be ring-rusty.
Whatever happens, though, it should be a fascinating few days' worth of snooker at the Beijing Students University Stadium, especially if some of the Chinese wildcards manage to make it into the event proper to give the fervent home crowd something to cheer.