The weekend of Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th January 2014 saw the Short Mat Players Tour return to Sweden for the second staging of the Swedish Masters in what was the 3rd world ranking event of the 2013-14 season.
Once again the Stromstrad Gymnasium was the venue, as 84 players representing 6 different countries were split into 14 groups of 6. The players would all compete in 4 out of their 5 group games on the Saturday, before the final group games and knockout rounds would be completed on the Sunday.
The first session witnessed a surprise win for SMPT director Phil Mills as he became the early leader in Group A, despite an opening win for last season’s world number one Mark Beattie and a draw between Jorgen Karlsson (Sweden) and former World Fours Champion Craig Burgess. There were impressive wins for Belgium’s Dimitri Payne, Ireland’s World Pairs Masters Champion William Morrison and Swedish starlet, 11 year old Jonas Hager.
Session two saw last year’s winner Morten Andre Coll and runner-up Victor Andersson both win tight games, whilst reigning European Masters champion Chris Mann ran out an easy winner against Norway’s Ronald Andersen (26v4). England’s Chris Page cruised to a 32v1 win over Norway’s David Ryste and multiple SMPT winner Joe Beattie lost to his Irish compatriot Robert Kidd 10v9.
In session 3, England’s Dom Reed edged World No. 1 Cecil Cillon (Ireland) 11v10 and there were wins for Jonathan Payne (Belgium), Jal ‘The Blond Bombshell’ Richardson (Ireland), Joel Hager and Lars Hansen (both Sweden).
Progressing through many of the groups was proving to be extremely tough and was epitomised by the 8v8 draw between James Trott (England) and home favourite Dick Almen in Group J. In Group K, Pauline Beattie (Ireland) also drew her match with Annelie Wikkstroem. Meanwhile England’s Steve Puttock played an outstanding last bowl to pick up 4 shots and claim victory over Dom Reed 14v13.
After lunch, as the groups started to take shape, Birgit Dahlgren (Sweden) beat Lisa Douglas (Ireland) 14v8, but both would go on to have excellent tournaments. Craig Burgess drew a second game and effectively ended his hopes of qualifying for the Main competition whilst Phil Mills lost a third successive game, and with it headed rapidly towards a place in the Wooden Spoon. Marcus Almen (Sweden) and Jonathan Payne (Belgium) both won to take control of their respective groups and the much fancied Irish contingent including Cecil, Jal, Joe and Mark maintained their high levels of consistency at SMPT events.
As Day 1 drew to a close, the Swedish players demonstrated why they are fast becoming a force in world bowls, with further impressive performances from Robin Hansson, Daniele Giorgini and Benny Sjogren.
As the final day got underway, wins in the first session for Mark Beattie, Birgit Dahlgren, Lars Hansen, Daniel Lundberg and Stig Albrektsson secured their qualification to the Main knockout competition. A draw between Jonas Hager and William Morrison (10v10) was good enough to see both players safely through, but Jonas created SMPT history in becoming the youngest player to qualify for the knockout stages of a world ranking event!
Despite losing to John Lax by one shot, reigning champion Morten Andre Coll qualified alongside Chris Mann which meant Victor Andersson had to settle for the Plate competition this time around.
Other notable qualifiers to the Main competition included Chris Page, Marcus Almen, Lucien Smeers (Belgium), Uno Ekstrand (Sweden), Joe and Pauline Beattie, Cecil Dillon, Steve Puttock, Jal Richardson, Jonathan Payne and Lilian Djermo (Sweden).
This meant that some excellent bowling from players including Dick Almen, Robert Kidd and Lisa Douglas was not enough to prevent them entering the Plate Competition. Similarly, former World No. 2 Dimitri Payne (Belgium) would take his place in the Wooden Spoon competition.
With all the group positions now decided, the players were split into the three knockout competitions. The group winners and runners up went into the Main draw. Players finishing in third and fourth places went into the Plate and those in fifth and sixth place were drawn into the Wooden Spoon. The knockouts began at the last 32 stage. The Wooden Spoon competition was eagerly contested with some close games. At the semi final stage Mats Andersson (Sweden) defeated Kyle Lynch (Ireland) 10-8 and Dimitri Payne was comfortable in winning 12-7 against Lars Rune Lauritzen (Norway). Dimitri showed his greater experience in the final and cruised to a 14-4 victory.
The Plate competition gave us some recognised names who had just failed to qualify for the Main event. Dom Reed (England), Victor Andersson and Dick Almen being amongst those who had just missed out. With Dom and Victor both losing in the last 16, this left the way clear for others to take advantage. The semi final line-ups were complete and Dick Almen breezed past Daniel Winmill (England) 12-2 whilst Ulf Hallstrand (Sweden) lost a close encounter against Ireland’s Lisa Douglas who picked up a count of 4 on the deciding end to win 14-10. Dick raced into a 7-1 lead after 4 ends in the final and by the halfway mark led 12-3. By the 9th end his lead had increased further to 15-3 and despite a mini revival by Lisa, Dick ran out a 16-7 winner.
Some great ties were lined up in the Main competition. In the last 32, there were 3 stand out games. In a repeat of the recent European Masters final, Cecil Dillon avenged his defeat by England’s Chris Mann, winning 14-5. Two former SMPT Champions met with Ireland’s Mark Beattie beating Belgium’s Jonathan Payne 11-6 and finally a titanic battle between former World Pairs Champion James Trott (England) and Sweden’s Marcus Almen. The whole crowd was watching as Marcus forced a tie break with his last bowl. The tension was unbearable as yet again Marcus drew shot with his last bowl to take the match 2-1 in the tie break. Defending Champion Morten Andre Coll also went out at this stage losing 13-10 to Steve Puttock. At the quarter final stage two close games in the top half of the draw saw Ireland’s Joseph Beattie beat a spirited Birgit Dahlgren 13-9 and Jal Richardson defeat Steve Puttock 13-10. In the bottom half, two more straight forward games saw Cecil Dillon beat Stig Albrektsson (Sweden) 17-4 and with Mark Beattie defeating England’s Chris Page 11-6, this meant we had an all Irish semi final line-up.
In the first semi final Mark took 5 of the opening 6 ends to lead 9-2. A full house 4 on the 9th end gave Cecil hope as he trailed 11-7, but Mark held firm and progressed to the final winning 12-8. The second semi final was a much tighter affair with Jal scoring a 2 on the 8th end to trail just 7-6. This was however to be his last score as Joseph stepped up a gear and scored 5 shots over the next 3 ends to win 12-6.
The bronze medal match was evenly contested between Jal and Cecil and it was tied 7-7 after 8 ends. A big 4 on the 9th took Cecil out in front and despite Jal scoring 3 singles it wasn’t enough to deny Cecil the match and hold on to his position as World No.1
The final brought together 2 previous winners of SMPT events, with Mark having won the UK Open in 2012 and Joseph who won the same event in 2013 in addition to securing the English Masters title. Mark edged it 3-2 after 4 ends but a run of 5 shots over the next 4 ends meant Joe led 7-3 after 8. A brilliant 3 from Mark brought him back into the match but the lead was restored by Joe over the next 2 ends leaving Mark the task of requiring a full house on the last end. With Mark laying the back bowls it looked like it might be achievable but with his last bowl, Joe turned his own wood up to cover the back position. Mark fired to try and kill the end but ended up scoring 1 shot and so Joe took the match and the title with a 10-7 victory.
Congratulations to Joe who becomes the first player to win a hat-trick of SMPT titles and he climbs up to 2nd in the World Rankings behind Cecil. Both players will be looking to cement their places at next month’s English Masters in Bromsgrove.