Ronnie O'Sullivan outclassed Barry Hawkins 18-12 on Monday to win his fifth world snooker championship and become only the third man to claim back-to-back titles at the Crucible Theatre.

The 37-year-old Englishman, returning to the sport after a year-long absence, showed no signs of rustiness over the two weeks of competition, culminating in a comfortable win over world number 14 Hawkins. "I thought it was a brilliant final," O'Sullivan told reporters after making a final-record six century breaks. "Overall, the snooker was really good.

"In January/December, I'll have a better idea of whether I will return to play here. I enjoyed my year out and I intend to play in some smaller events for the love of the game. I do appreciate what snooker has done for me and what it's given me but it's the build-up I struggle with. It's hard to keep a lid on what I go through sometimes.

"At no stage did I feel relaxed in any match. You just don't here. You have to face your demons and that's why it's such a hard tournament." O'Sullivan, 10-7 up overnight, watched his opponent win the opening frame of the day. Breaks of 76 and 55 lifted O'Sullivan to a four-frame lead at 12-8 but the gritty Hawkins produced a break of 90 to take the following frame before O'Sullivan responded with a 133.

Hawkins reduced the deficit to four frames at 14-10 before O'Sullivan produced a clearance of 124. The unfancied Hawkins compiled a century of his own with a 127 and then made it 15-12 with a break of 66. Hawkins threatened to move to within two frames of O'Sullivan in frame 28 before a missed red on the cushion proved costly and O'Sullivan punished the error with a break of 77 to lead 16-12.

A run of 88 enabled O'Sullivan to claim the following frame and he clinched the title with a fine break of 86. The 34-year-old Hawkins, who has won only one ranking tournament in his career, paid tribute to his fellow countryman O'Sullivan. "There's no shame in losing 18-12 to him because he's got to go down as the greatest ever player," Hawkins said. "He's a phenomenal talent.

"The way he makes it look so easy is frightening. He's unbelievable. I think I played well but I just made a few mistakes." Hawkins believes O'Sullivan could go on to beat Stephen Hendry's record of seven world titles. "If he wants it, I'm sure he could do it if he carries on playing like that," he said. "I'd like to see him stay because the game is better with him in it."

Six-times world champion Steve Davis became the first man to win back-to-back titles at the Crucible in 1983 and 1984 before Hendry won five in a row in the early 1990s. Hendry holds the record of seven world titles since the tournament moved to its permanent base at the Crucible in 1977.