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Snooker: Higgins' bid for fourth title off to winning start

SCOTLAND'S John Higgins began his bid for a fourth williamhill.com UK Championship title by grinding out a first-round win over Michael Holt.

Higgins, champion in 1998, 2000 and 2010, came through his opening test on day one of the tournament at York's Barbican Centre, stepping up his performance following a mid-match scare which left his mind "scrambled".

The 37-year-old, who stunned Judd Trump with a terrific comeback in the final to win the Shanghai Masters title in September, has looked to be approaching his best form after a slump last season. And while he scaled no great heights against 34-year-old Nottinghamshire potter Holt, there were enough indications that his game is in healthy order.

Higgins, who made an early break of 116, split the opening six frames with Holt and was behind midway through frame seven. But he then seized on an opening to inch ahead in the match, and it proved the turning point as he pulled away to clinch a 6-3 win.

"I'm delighted. I was on edge the whole game," said Higgins, who will play Mark Davis or Cao Yupeng next. "Being the first match on, sometimes that's not for the best. The cushions were the slowest I think I've ever played on and it was difficult to get used to the conditions."

The world No 3 added: "It was looking dodgy in the seventh frame when Michael could have cleared up and won that frame to make it 4-3. My head was getting scrambled, I was getting frustrated with myself and if it had gone 4-3 he would have probably gone on to win."

Few players in York will find the fluency Stephen Maguire showed after the interval in his opening match against Ireland's Fergal O'Brien.

The Glaswegian pinched the frame before the interval on a re-spotted black to go level at 2-2, but breaks of 102, 104 and 131, followed by a 70, saw him to a 6-2 victory. He will now tackle Stuart Bingham or Jack Lisowski in his next match on Tuesday.

Maguire was relieved to have overcome O'Brien, who was threatening to make it a torrid afternoon for the Scot. "I'm quite easily frustrated and I was getting that way, so I decided I was going to go for everything at 2-2 because I felt lucky to be 2-2, and luckily everything went in. I'm not going to keep that form up, but if I play half as well then it's going to take someone playing really well to beat me."

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