Sullivan takes two-shot lead, impressing Clarke

England's Andy Sullivan (left) teeing off at the 18th hole and being watched by Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.
England's Andy Sullivan (left) teeing off at the 18th hole and being watched by Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.PHOTO: REUTERS

ABU DHABI • Andy Sullivan started and finished his second round with three straight birdies to take a two-shot lead in the weather-affected Abu Dhabi Championship yesterday, making another strong impression in front of European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke.

Sullivan, one of the stars of the European Tour last year with three victories, won three points from three matches for Europe in their big win over Asia in the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia last week.

Clarke, who will play at the SMBC Singapore Open next week, also captained the Europeans for the EurAsia event. He and Sullivan have played together for the first two days in Abu Dhabi, with the Englishman shooting two straight five-under 67s to lead an all-star field with a 134 total.

They have been close friends since Sullivan turned professional in 2011 and the jokes have been flying between them this week.

"He has completely taken the mick out of me for two days and I have told him that if he keeps this up, a pick (for the Ryder Cup) is out of the question," Clarke said.

Sullivan, known for his big smile and easy-going attitude, has been giving it 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," Sullivan said, laughing.

"I just try and have a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. It was good fun and kept it relaxed and enabled me to play some good golf."

Sullivan overtook overnight leader Bryson DeChambeau, the American amateur who shot a 64 in the first round.

DeChambeau was among the late starters yesterday, along with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, who will also play in Singapore next week. At press time, they had not finished their rounds after fog delayed the start of play by nearly three hours.

That did not affect Sullivan, who birdied Nos. 10-12 to tie for the lead when he started his round.

He later rolled in birdie putts from six feet on No. 7, 12 feet on No. 8 and 20 feet on No. 9.

"I've used that momentum from last week (in the EurAsia Cup) and that was just a little taster of what the Ryder Cup would be like," said Sullivan, who won twice in South Africa as well as the Portugal Masters by nine shots last year.

"That's going to be 10-fold. Last week gave me more desire to put my name in the mix.

"Darren knows what I can do so I don't think it was imperative (to play well here), but it bodes well when you do."

Sullivan's 36-hole aggregate of 134 will surely see him towards the top of the leaderboard when the second round concludes this morning.

"To get off to a start like that was fantastic," he said.

"But I'm almost more pleased about the way I dug deep in the middle of the round.

"I struggled for about four or five holes, hitting everything left. So to finish the way I did is great. To edge away from the guys behind puts me in good stead for the weekend.

"Then there is the fact that I have been able to follow up on last year. I didn't want to be the guy who says 'I won three times in one year then never won again'. I want a better career than that and I want to win as many tournaments as I can."

Joost Luiten of the Netherlands shot 68 and is three shots behind Sullivan, along with Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who shot a 67 to be also on 137.

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Sullivan takes two-shot lead, impressing Clarke'. Print Edition | Subscribe