SAM BAIRD produced a stunning comeback from the jaws of defeat to go one step closer to making his debut at the Crucible.
The 24-year-old made it three wins out of three after coming back from 9-7 down against Rory McLeod to win the remaining three frames and book a place in the final round of qualifiers for the World Championship.
Baird, who earlier this week beat Chen Zhe and Peter Lines, will play Joe Perry on Sunday knowing victory will give him a first round spot at the famous Sheffield venue. Should Baird win, he will go into the tournament as the lowest ranked player from the official world rankings list – currently in 83rd position.
Two more players also made it through to the final round after starting from the first round. Liam Highfield won a thrilling deciding frame match against last year’s quarter-finalist Jamie Jones and Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng eased into the final round with a 10-4 win over Anthony Hamilton.
Highfield will meet China Open quarter-finalist Marcus Campbell and Poomjaeng will take on Jamie Cope during the weekend.
Thursday’s action also saw Joe Swail’s fine run come to an end after a 10-7 defeat to Mark Joyce. The Belfast potter, who is not on the main tour this season, was playing his sixth match in total after having to pre-qualifier for the main qualification draw.
Rod Lawler fought off a superb comeback from Anthony McGill to go one match away from a first appearance at the Crucible since 1996. McGill came back from 8-3 down to level the contest before Lawler scrapped his way through winning the final frame.
Alfie Burden also had to make the last 48 stage the hard way after he won his deciding frame contest and knocked out Dave Harold to set up a final qualifier against Dominic Dale.
China’s Yu Delu had a more comfortable time of it after he brushed aside Scotland’s Jamie Burnett 10-6 to go one away from a debut Crucible appearance – just Mark King now stands in his way. And Liang Wenbo completed his impressive win against Jimmy Robertson, winning 10-3.
David Gilbert, who made the last 16 stage last year, ended Tony Drago’s chances of making the first round proper with a 10-8 win. And former World Championship semi-finalist Alan McManus defeated Nigel Bond by the same scoreline.
Overall, nine players stand a chance of making their first appearances at the Crucible and will do so with victory in the weekend. These are Ben Woollaston, Michael White, Jack Lisowski, Dechawat Poomjaeng, Mark Joyce, Yu Delu, Sam Baird, Liam Highfield and Kurt Maflin.
The full draw for the final qualifying round can be seen here with the action resuming on Saturday.