Name: Ian McCulloch
DOB: 28th July 1971
Turned Pro: 1992
Highest Ranking: #16 (2005/6)
Highest Break: 145 (British Open 2003)
Career Highlights: 2002 British Open finalist, 2004 Grand Prix finalist, 2005 World Championship semi-finalist, 2004 World Championship quarter-finalist, 1999 & 2006 Welsh Open quarter-finalist
Having turned professional in 1992, it took Ian a number of years to really establish himself on the tour. His fortunes began to improve in 1997 however when he reached the last 64 of the Welsh Open, before reaching the quarter-finals of the same event three years later. Despite this, Ian continued to struggle for consistency and remained ranked outside of the top 32.
Aged 31 and entering the years where many players tend to go into decline; Ian was quite the opposite and began to play some of the best snooker of his career. Having only made one quarter-final previously, he sensationally beat John Higgins and Mark Williams at the 2002 British Open to reach his first final where he would face the late Paul Hunter. Although the man from Leeds would go on to take the title 9-4, this result seemed give McCulloch a much needed confidence boost, as well as a £26,000 reward for his efforts.
He took this form into the rest of the season where although he did not manage to run particularly deep in any event, he consistently won matches and moved into the top 32 of the rankings for the first time. He also managed to qualify for the World Championship for the second time, though Higgins would take his revenge in their round one clash at the Crucible.
Ian in action during his second ranking event final at the 2004 Grand Prix (Global Snooker)
Results continued to be solid in 2003/4 as he again managed to qualify for the World Championship and this time made a real impression in Sheffield. Not only did he beat the 2002 champion Peter Ebdon in round one, but he progressed to the quarter-final where he would meet seven times champion Stephen Hendry.
This was not to be a match to remember for McCulloch however as he was totally outperformed, losing the match 13-3. He had done well enough to move his ranking up to a new high of 17, though just missing out on the top 16 he would again have to qualify for events during the next season.
World success, ranking disappointment
As it turned out though, 2004/5 was to prove even more bitter-sweet for Ian. He started well, reaching his second ranking event final at the Grand Prix before losing out to Ronnie O’Sullivan and his form continued right through to the end of the season and the 2005 World Championship. Having come through a nervy opening round clash with Graeme Dott he went on to defeat double world champion Mark Williams and veteran Scot Alan McManus to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
Ian at the table against Graeme Dott in 2005 (Global Snooker)
Unfortunately for Ian though, this was to be as good as it got as he lost a close match 17-14 to Matthew Stevens and even worse, despite this run pushing him into the elite top 16 for the first time, the fact that the unseeded Shaun Murphy went on to win the trophy meant that Ian would still have to qualify for events in 2005/6. This was because although Murphy was ranked outside of the top 16, winning the world title meant that he would be seeded #2 for all tournaments (bar the World Championship), and qualify automatically, ensuring that Ian would be back at Prestatyn again.
Following this blow, Ian’s career seemed to stall as he failed to repeat his performances of the past few seasons, reaching only one ranking quarter-final in 2005/6 and failing to qualify for the World Championship.
As a result Ian’s ranking was to drop nine places to 25th and although his results were slightly improved during the following season, the highlight being a 10-7 defeat of the defending champion Graeme Dott at the 2007 World Championship, he had not performed well enough to challenge for a top 16 place again.
Ian’s struggles were to deepen during 2008/9 as he suffered first-round defeats in six of the season’s eight ranking events, a critical point given that under the current system, seeded losers receive half-points. The final one of these defeats came at the 2009 World Championship qualifiers where with his top 32 place on the line, he could not do enough to prevent Rory McLeod reaching the Crucible for the first time in his career with a 10-7 win.
After a further defeat to Simon Bedford at the season-opening Shanghai Masters, Ian enjoyed hard-fought 5-4 victories against John Parrott and Joe Swail to qualify for the venue stage of the Grand Prix in Glasgow where he was defeated 5-3 by Mark Allen.
Ian at the 2010 World Championship qualifiers
Though that was to be Ian’s sole venue appearance of the season, he was at least able to win his opening matches at the Welsh Open and World Championship to get some all-important ranking points on the board and give himself a chance of maintaining his top 48 status beyond the end of the season. His Welsh Open triumph against Jimmy White was particularly notable as Ian recovered from 4-0 down at the interval to win the match on a re-spotted black!
Ian continued to struggle for consistency during the Players Tour Championship in 2010/11 but did progress as far as the quarter-finals of both the PTC3 and PTC6 events at the Academy in Sheffield.
He could not repeat that success during the season’s seven full ranking event tournaments however as he was able to win just two matches, meaning that his ranking would drop to 63rd at the end of the season.
Ian’s most impressive during the first half of 2011/12 came during the UK Championship qualifiers as he defeated Luca Brecel and James Wattana to make it through to the third round before losing out to six-time champion Steve Davis.
Ian at the 2011 UK Championship qualifiers
His best performance during the PTC events came at PTC5 as he made it through to the last 16, while he also hit form at PTC11 in defeating Joe Perry and friend Dave Harold to reach the last 32.
- Click here to read my interview with Ian in October 2011
The second half of Ian’s season was to be consistent as he reached the final qualifying rounds of both the Haikou World Open and Welsh Open tournaments. Opening round defeats at the China Open and World Championship qualifiers however meant that Ian would finish the campaign ranked outside of the top 64 and was therefore relegated from the main tour after 20 years.