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Andy Sullivan gives his army of supporters lots to smile about at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai

Wearing their T-shirts emblazoned with a big smiley face in homage to their friend and sporting hero, “The Sulli Army” have been given plenty to grin about here. At the halfway point of the DP World Tour Championship, Andy Sullivan is one shot clear of a leaderboard including names of the calibre of Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

Sullivan, 29, flashes his gnashers no matter how he is performing, which makes it even easier for the 30 or so who have come over from Nuneaton Golf Club to support their man. For Sullivan it is simple. “Before I turned professional, I worked at Asda,” he said. “This is my dream, what I’ve always wanted to do it. If I can’t enjoy it then I’d best go and do something else – go back to stacking shelves in a supermarket.”

From earning a little over £200 a week, Sullivan has collected nigh on £1  million this year and is plainly not finished yet. He did not turn pro until he was 25, which is relatively late nowadays. He made steady progress up the tours, before this his breakthrough campaign. Sullivan is the only player to have won three times on the European Tour this season – twice in South Africa and then, five weeks ago, at the Portugal Masters. “The Sulli Army” were out in force in the Algarve as well, where he led from start to finish and prevailed by nine shots.

“There’s my mum and dad, other relatives and loads of friends from my golf club,” Sullivan said. “They have followed me about six or seven times this year and every time I’ve done pretty well. They’ve done it to escape the cold but I think I’m going to have to start paying for them to come out every week, as they’re a real assistance. I felt a bit static from the eighth to the 11th but I holed a huge one on the 12th and my lot went mad and then it’s massive for me to use that to my advantage.”

There was another long, raking putt on the 14th, setting the stage for an outrageous birdie conversion on the 18th, which was greeted with something resembling pandemonium. ‘The Sulli Army’ knows this means more than the near £900,000 first prize for their fellow club member who, on occasion, will still turn out in their Sunday winter league and to whom they have dedicated the 19th hole – “Sulli’s Bar”.

Somewhat bizarrely, considering his hat-trick of titles, the best Sullivan can finish is fifth in the Order of Merit, although that would be worth another £320,000. Then there is the world’s top 50 and entry to the Masters.

Sullivan is 53rd in the rankings and on a mission to be inside the top 50 by the end of the year, which would land him the golden ticket to Augusta. Quite rightly, Sullivan is refusing to talk about it, knowing that he has enough to think about with those in pursuit.

A shot back is Emiliano Grillo, who won on the PGA Tour last month. Rory McIlroy played with the Argentine and was impressed with his 64, which is more than can be said about his own 68, which left him in a tie for fourth on eight-under, a shot off the American Patrick Reed in third. “It was OK, but I left plenty out there,” McIIroy said. “There’s a low one out there and I’m in a nice position.”

Even if McIlroy has ground to make up in the tournament, in the Race to Dubai itself he is out in front. Danny Willett, who is only a little more than £1,000 behind in second in the standings, is on six-under after a 70 and of the other five who could bypass McIlroy, another Englishman in Justin Rose (66) and the South African Branden Grace are best placed in a tie for seventh on seven-under.

Sullivan’s beaming countenance was in direct contrast to that of Ian Poulter, who shared the overnight lead on six-under but fell back to a tie for 23rd on four-under with an ugly 74.

Poulter was hard on himself. “I got what I deserved today,” he tweeted. “Disgusting commitment to shots. Disgusting attitude. Disgusting temperament. Lost my cool. Need a low weekend.”


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