The veteran pair both turned pro together in 1992 and this was a 70th career meeting – but it was Scot Higgins produced his best display in years to set up a semi-final against David Gilbert.
The tempo was breakneck and the standard scarcely believable as two-time Masters winner Higgins, 45, secured a 6-3 victory in Milton Keynes.
But that didn’t tell half of the story. In one five-frame streak the duo rattled in five century breaks in a row to match the feat of Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson in 2009.
Higgins, whose last Masters success came 15 years ago beating O’Sullivan 10-9 in the final, had urged fans to “get beers and a takeaway in and enjoy” – and that proved sound advice.
Four-time world champion Higgins, who had breaks of 145, 110, 134 and 88 said: “I enjoyed that, it was a really high standard and only a couple of mistakes.
“I am delighted the way I turned up there against one of the best players in a big match. I have been putting the practice in, but you don’t need to play bad to lose now.
“I have been working on my technique a bit, and it seems to be paying off. I have lost some matches but it is really about belief and that performance will give me a lot of confidence.”
O’Sullivan, with efforts of 97, 125 and 103 said: “I made too many unforced errors and some lax safety shots and if you do that against John Higgins playing well then you lose.
“It is no consolation about the centuries, he was far too good for me. I’d rather play badly and win.”
Six-time Masters winner Stephen Hendry said: “It has been a completely dominant performance. In the frames Ronnie won he has been brilliant – but John has just been at another level.”
Former world champion Ken Doherty said: “The phrase ‘snooker from the Gods’ is overused – but this really is. It is an absolute treat to be here watching.”
And the 1991 Crucible king John Parrott said: “It is very rare you get two players this good playing at their best at the same time.
“But the standard is just ridiculous, and miles clear of anything else this week. We are running out of superlatives.”
The watching Mark Williams, the third member of the famous Class of 92, tweeted: “You are watching the best and second-best players ever here playing – enjoy it while they are still playing.”
There was huge anticipation for this latest chapter in a 29-year saga between two of the greatest players to pick up a cue.
Had the contest been at Alexandra Palace as usual it would have been played out in front of a raucous sell-out crowd of 2,500.
Late tightening of Covid protocols saw the event switched to Milton Keynes behind closed doors.
However millions of TV viewers took Higgins’ pre-match advice to “order a takeaway and a couple of beers – and enjoy”.
The tale of the tape between these two snooker heavyweights tells the story. A total of 125 titles in all, including 10 world titles – and 67 ranking titles combined.
Both were prowling around like caged tigers before entering the arena, and it was reigning and six-time world champion O’Sullivan who hit the ground running with a break of 97.
But that only provoked a magnificent response from his oldest rival. Higgins levelled up at 1-1 with two visits to the table.
And he then went into overdrive with a tournament-high break of 145 – the fourth-highest break in Masters history after the three 147s – and then an almost better effort of 110.
O’Sullivan immediately hit back with a superb clearance of 125 – a third century in a row in the match.
And that prompted Mark Williams, the third member of the ‘Class of 92’, to tweet: “You are watching the best and second-best players ever here playing – enjoy it while they are still playing.”
But there was more to come. O’Sullivan levelled at 3-3 with a 103 and then Higgins weighed in with a total clearance break of 134 to equal a Masters record of five tons in a row.
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