JOHN HIGGINS is playing his way into Betway UK Championship form – and the rest of the York Barbican field better watch out.

The three-time title holder shrugged off a slow start to see off Tian Pengfei 6-2 and move into the last 32 and the Wizard of Wishaw believes the flat 128 draw structure, which sees all players start in the first round regardless of ranking, may be helping some of the top performers cruise into top gear.

“With it being 128 players and the way it has worked out, I think you can sometimes play your way into a tournament better now,” he said.

“Although, if push came to shove, you would want it back to the old way where the top 16 was coming in with 32 players, if you are struggling off the bat you can be out of the tournament on your way home under the old system because you would be playing a top player coming through who is a little bit match sharp.

“I think it’s maybe helping some of the top players that you are getting into the tournament, you are playing a couple of matches and you are feeling settled – and that’s when you hit the last 32, the last 16 and you play better.”

Pengfei edged in front in the opening frame as Higgins missed a couple of straightforward pots early on but he got on the board with 66 and punished his opponent’s mistakes on his way to a 4-1 lead.

Pengfei spurned a 40 point lead in the second frame and lost the third from a decent position after Higgins fired in 63.

Breaks of 96 and 55 put him in a commanding position but Pengfei found some rhythm and produced a wonderful 116 to hang onto Higgins’ coat-tails.

But the 40-year-old used his vast experience to take a scrappy next and finished off in clinical style with a century.

“I am happy at 6-2,” Higgins, who has already won two ranking events this season, added. “Tian missed a couple of shots in the fifth frame which was pivotal. He could have gone 3-2 and I managed to nick it to go 4-1.

“From then, it seemed as if I was in control of the game. Obviously I didn’t play great. I missed too many easy balls but am pleased to win.”

Two-time winner Mark Williams crashed out, though, beaten 6-5 by Tom Ford – a player he had never been conquered by.

He had fought back from 2-0 down to lead 5-3 but Ford forced a decider, producing a marvellous 70 clearance after Williams forged 69 points in front and then put together a nerveless 66 in the last to claim victory.

Welshman Williams was guarded with his comments in the post-match press conference, arguing he did not want to risk a fine.

He said: “I have got be careful what I say because I could get myself into trouble. He made some good clearances, I have got to take my hat off to him, but I can’t say anything.”

Asked if he was frustrated with the conditions, he added: “You said it, not me. I wish I had won, because it might sound like sour grapes, but I am not like that.

“I was very unlucky – some of the bounces I had towards the end were incredible and that’s what cost me but that’s the way it goes.

“I probably threw that match away I suppose but, at the end of the day, I have just lost 6-5. Does anyone really care? I don’t.”

Ford said: "I felt good going into the match. It was quite hard because there were a lot of bad contacts that affected us both.

"At 5-3 down, I just tried to play the balls. I thought if I could get it back to 5-4 he might be thinking about a decider."