Rory McIlroy remained in pole position to be crowned European number one for the third time in four years as former supermarket shelf-stacker Andy Sullivan claimed the halfway lead in the DP World Tour Championship.
McIlroy felt he was stuck “somewhere between third and fourth gear” after a second round of 68 at Jumeirah Golf Estates left him eight under par, four shots behind Sullivan but crucially ahead of Race to Dubai rivals Justin Rose and Danny Willett by one and two shots respectively.
Sullivan carded a second consecutive 66 to lead by one from Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, much to the delight of “Team Sulli”, his 30-strong personal fan club from Nuneaton who have travelled to Dubai for the £5.2million season finale.
McIlroy has a lead of just 1,613 points over Willett in the Race to Dubai, with Rose more than 600,000 points further back and needing to finish second or better to overtake his Ryder Cup team-mate.
Even a victory on Sunday would not be enough for Rose if McIlroy was outright second.
“I’m treating it like a normal event because I’m just here to win and I know if I win, then everything else will take care of itself,” McIlroy said.
“I’m not quite performing at the highest levels I would like to.
“I’m hitting it well. I feel like my putting’s getting better. I still missed a few chances but I scrambled well today.
“All facets of my game are pretty much there, it’s just a matter of being a little more efficient, taking advantage of the par fives a bit better.
“I saw first hand how well Emiliano is playing but I just have to try and put another solid round in tomorrow and give myself a chance on Sunday.”
Already the only player to win three times on the European Tour this season, Sullivan could take his official earnings for the year to almost £2million with the first prize of £875,000 and his share of the £4million bonus pool shared between the top 15 players on the Race to Dubai.
Not bad for a man who spent two years stacking shelves in Asda to fund his golf.
“If you ask them they’ll probably say I was only there for about six months because I was asleep in the changing room half the time,” joked Sullivan, whose supporters wear T-shirts with a bright yellow smiley face on the front to reflect the 29-year-old’s irrepressible personality.
“I had to go in at five in the morning and finish at 10 so I could play golf, so a few times I turned up with a bit of a hangover, seeing as I had to work on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Working in Asda and having a little girl (Ruby was born in 2013) put a massive perspective on life.
“This is my dream and I’ve always wanted to do it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”