By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) – England’s Andy Sullivan carded an unblemished 66 in the second round of the DP World Tour Championship on Friday to take the outright lead after sinking a 25-foot birdie from off the green on the final hole.
Sullivan, 28, has an aggregate 12-under score of 132 at the halfway stage of the European Tour’s $8 million season finale. He is a stroke ahead of Argentine Emiliano Grillo, whose second-round 64 was the lowest of the tournament.
American Patrick Reed (65) is nine-under on 135, while three players including four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel are a shot further adrift. In all, 20 players are within six shots of the lead.
“It’s absolutely awesome to be leading after halfway in such a massive event,” Sullivan told reporters after making an arcing putt on the 18th to deafening cheers from the gallery.
The world number 53 has rarely erred in Dubai, registering a solitary bogey over 36 holes, while four birdies in the final seven holes on Friday helped him snatch the lead by the close.
“I played really good on the front nine without holing a massive amount, and then on 12 up the hill, I holed a long one there,” added Sullivan. “My putter just seemed to get crazy hot from there and everything I looked at pretty much went in.”
Sullivan will partner Grillo in the third round, with the South American returning to sizzling form after winning October’s Frys.com Open on the PGA tour, a victory he said helped strengthen his self-belief in Dubai.
“It’s pretty much like a major here,” said Grillo, 23, who partnered world number three McIlroy on Friday.
“You’ve got the best players in the world and you’ve got to play really well to keep up.”
McIlroy expressed his satisfaction after a second successive four-under-par 68 kept him in contention.
The Northern Irishman was steady, if unspectacular on Friday, making two birdies plus a bogey on the front nine before picking up three more shots after the turn.
“It played a little tricky out there with the wind conditions and the direction of the wind changing a little bit,” McIlroy told reporters.
“It caught me out today a couple of times. Eight-under par, it’s a good position going into the weekend and not too far off the lead. I’m happy with my couple days’ work.”
Schwartzel had on Thursday revealed his despair at his prolonged poor form that had sent him tumbling down the rankings, but he showed his class with four birdies from the 14th hole onwards to card 65.
England’s Ian Poulter was one of four overnight joint-leaders, but three bogeys and a double-bogey in Friday’s opening 12 holes dropped him out of contention as he carded 74 for a combined score of 140.
Justin Rose is back in with a chance after a second-round 66 moved him to 137, five shots adrift following six birdies after the turn.
“The front nine, I was playing well and not making anything of it,” said Rose, who acknowledged his first-round 71 was beneficial in giving him an early start before the customary afternoon winds swept the Earth course.
“I was having to work hard not to get frustrated and then everything turned around on the back nine.”
The Race to Dubai title, awarded to the player who earns the most money on the tour this season, is also up for grabs.
McIlroy, looking to win for the third year in four, led going into Dubai, while six other players including Rose could still win what was formerly known as the Order of Merit.
(Reporting by Matt Smith; editing by Toby Davis)