Holder Stephen Hendry made a winning start to his Champions Cup campaign in Brighton yesterday - but only just.

The seven-times world champion was pushed to the wire by Stephen Lee before emerging a 5-4 victor in the opening match of the #200,000 competition.

Hendry, down to No.3 in the rankings, no longer dominates the sport as he used to. The 31-year-old Scot feels the days when one player had a monopoly on the major prizes are over.

''You never know but I wouldn't expect a Tiger Woods of snooker to come along and not miss a ball,'' he said. ''The chances of that happening are pretty slim. There are seven or eight players now who have a chance of winning at every event.

''In the past, I could take it for granted that I would win three or four titles a season. However, I can't do that now.

''There is little or no chance to re-charge the batteries in snooker whereas Tiger Woods can take a few weeks off. It might be better if we were allowed to play in, say, eight out of 10 events, but the sponsors wouldn't stand for it.

''I don't enjoy the practice as I used to and I take the odd Sunday off. However, when I come to the tournaments I still get the same buzz.''

Hendry made a sluggish start to his first match of the new season and dropped the opening two frames to the world No.5 from Trowbridge.

He then reeled off four without reply including back-to-back half centuries to lead 4-2. Lee, runner-up in the China and Welsh Opens last season, rallied to level at 4-4 with a break of 92 - the highest of the afternoon.

However, Hendry, usually a master when it comes to deciding frames, knocked in 53 to bring the three hour match in group A to a close.

He returns to action tomorrow with another group match against Ken Doherty.

In the last match scheduled yesterday, Ronnie O'Sullivan eliminated Scotland's John Higgins 5-4, with the Englishman taking the final frame 136-0.

Mark Williams, made a shaky start to his new season at but survived a stern examination of character by Irishman Ken Doherty.

Williams collected an opening victory in the group stages thanks to a deciding-frame success.

The Welsh left-hander defeated Dubliner Doherty 5-4, a win that included the opening century of the competition.

''I'm still not able to bring my practice form to the match table,'' said Williams. ''I go for the same shots whether 4-0 up or level.''

Williams starts the new season with a massive lead at the head of the rankings but does not believe he is uncatchable as suggested by Hendry and John Higgins.

n RESULTS from the Regal Welsh Open at Newport:

First qualifying round: B Haneveer (Bel) beat N Robertson (Aus) 5-3, N Noppachorn (Tha) beat M Hallett (Eng) 5-1, M Selby (Eng) beat A Burnett (Sco) 5-1, P McCullagh (Eng) beat C Roper (Eng) 5-2, G Chilcott (Wa) beat N Terry (Eng) 5-4, M Husnu (Cyp) beat J Weston (Eng) 5-3, T Shaw (Eng) beat P Williams (Wal) 5-1, W Saidler (Eng) beat G Lee (Eng) 5-2, S MacKenzie (Sco) beat D Hailin (Chi) w/o.