Tuesday 28 February 2017

Numbers stack up for super Sullivan

English star impresses Clarke as birdie drought torments McIlroy

James Corrigan

Andy Sullivan tees off at the 18th in the second round of the Abu Dhabi
HSBC Championship yesterday Photo:Reuters
Andy Sullivan tees off at the 18th in the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship yesterday Photo:Reuters

While Jordan Spieth needed the assistance of a fan's backside to remain in touch at the Abu Dhabi Championship, Andy Sullivan required no such fortune to forge into contention and so remind the Ryder Cup captain of his quality.

If Darren Clarke was not aware of Sullivan's talent a fortnight ago, he will be in absolutely no doubt now. Last week at the EurAsia Cup, Clarke was the Europe captain and saw Sullivan win three out of three in the demolition of Asia, and here he has partnered the 29-year-old from Nuneaton as he has compiled two 67s to lead.

Clarke could not hide his admiration. "Andy is playing beautifully and could be 14- or 15-under," Clarke said after his own 70 which put him on one-under. "There are lots of brilliant young kids out here but not many of them move the ball both ways and with different trajectory. He does it all.

"A lot of kids don't see that, they hit it as hard and as far as they can and go from there. Sully is hitting a draw off one tee then a cut the next. He is a proper shot-maker and is such a great kid as well. He has completely taken the p**s out of me for two days and I have told him if he keeps this up, a pick is out of the question!"

In truth, the banter went two ways. "We both have a similar sense of humour, although Darren obviously enjoys taking the mick out of a short, fat guy," Sullivan said. "I had to give him some back. He's got 60 on his ball and on the first tee I said I didn't realise you put your age on the ball. It was good fun and kept me relaxed and enabled me to play some good golf. Darren [who is 47] has always helped me. He's been a really good mentor to me. It's just lucky he's the Ryder Cup captain."

After three wins last year, Sullivan is in the automatic qualifying places in the points list, and victory here would go a long way to earning him a ticket he could not even dream about when he was stacking shelves at Asda at the turn of the decade.

Spirit

The three birdies with which he closed his day were further evidence of his competitive spirit, particularly the 30-footer on the last.

"I called that to my caddie, saying I fancied it as I hadn't yet holed one over 20 feet," Sullivan said. "I'm just trying to kick on. I don't want to be the guy that makes my career by winning three times in one season."

Sullivan has a one-shot advantage over Bryson DeChambeau, but the American amateur still has nine holes of his second round to complete. Morning fog led to a 2hr 45min delay, meaning that half the field will return at 7.40am.

These include Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who are on three-under and five-under respectively, both having gone through their first 13 holes in one-over.

It was flat viewing, only lit up by Spieth's outrageous break on the ninth.

The world No 1's drive was destined for the lake until it hit a spectator on his rear. Spieth saved par and will be looking to put himself into the hunt this morning.

McIlroy, for his part, had completed 13 holes before play was suspended for the day. It was lacklustre fare compared to the fireworks of his opening 66, which contained eight birdies.

Yesterday, though, there wasn't a birdie in sight as the Holywood player struggled with his putter to post 12 pars and a dropped shot on the ninth where his pushed drive finished in rocks on the edge of a lake.

The other Irish competitor in the field, Michael Hoey, carded a three-under 69 to leave himself tied for 26th. Three consecutive birdies on the sixth, seventh and eighth kick-started a promising round for the Ballymoney native. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.0am

CareerBuilder Challenge,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Telegraph.co.uk

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