By Matt Smith
ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Former supermarket worker Andy Sullivan did his hopes of playing in this year’s Ryder Cup no harm with a second successive 67 at the Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday watched closely by his playing partner and European captain Darren Clarke.
Sullivan has gone from stacking shelves as an amateur to world number 37 and a current place among Europe’s automatic Ryder Cup picks after a sizzling year that included three tour wins and maximum points at last week’s Eurasia Cup.
The stocky Englishman continued his fine form in Abu Dhabi, moving to 10 under after two rounds to be clubhouse leader, a performance Sullivan said was helped by relentless ribbing from Clarke.
“We’ve both got a similar sense of humour and he just enjoys taking the mick out of the short fat guy,” Sullivan told reporters.
Clarke was captain as Europe’s team beat Asia 18.5 to 5.5 last week, Sullivan winning all three of his matches including a 4&3 singles victory over world number 28 Thongchai Jaidee.
“Last week was just a little taste of what the Ryder Cup is going to be like,” Sullivan said. “I’ve used the momentum from last week to really try and kick on.”
He succeeded in Abu Dhabi, shrugging off a near-three hour fog delay to sink birdies on his opening three holes.
Sullivan picked up another shot at his 10th but also carded two bogeys before ending as he begun with three successive birdies including a 30-foot downhill putt at the last.
“We played a lot together last year and I’m forever egging him on, trying to help him. He’s playing great,” Clarke said.
The Northern Irishman likened Sullivan to former U.S. Masters champion Ian Woosnam, describing the 28-year-old as the complete package.
“A lot of the young kids hit it as hard and as far as they can and then go for there, whereas Sully’s hitting a fade off one tee, a draw off the next,” Clarke said.
“I love playing with people like that. He’s a proper shot-maker. Combine that with the fact he’s a really, really good kid and that’s even better.”
Such praise should make Sullivan confident of earning a ticket to Minnesota in September, although he is not complacent.
“There are a lot of good guys not in the rankings yet who will be pushing hard so I know I’ve got to keep my foot to the gas,” Sullivan said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)