Early bird Sullivan catches the worm at Leopard Creek

15/12/2012 08:36:54
Andy Sullivan   (Getty Images)
Andy Sullivan (Getty Images)

After making the cut on the mark at level par on Friday, England’s Andy Sullivan surged up the Alfred Dunhill Championship leaderboard on Saturday morning thanks to a sensational, joint best of the week 64 at Leopard Creek – a round he described as his finest on The European Tour.

Playing in the fifth group out on another stunning morning in Mpumalanga, Sullivan – starting tied 60th with 36 holes to play in the second event of The 2013 Race to Dubai – had a steady if unspectacular front nine that featured birdies at the second, sixth and seventh holes and just the one drop on the par four third.

But it was the Walker Cup player’s scores after the turn that caught the eye, as Sullivan made a quartet of birdies from the tenth, a ninth gain of the day thanks to a 40 foot putt at the 17th, and a closing birdie at the long 18th to come home in a stunning 31 that helped the 26 year old equal leader Charl Schwartzel’s magnificent second - and indeed third - round score.

“Since I’ve been on The European Tour it’s probably my best round,” said Sullivan after his superb display of iron-work and putting in the third round saw him finish the day tied for seventh place with 18 holes to play.

“I shot 64 in Madeira, but today was probably even better coming at a course like Leopard Creek. It was awesome, and considering that I didn’t drive it that great it was even more pleasing to shoot that score.

“I got a lot of luck with my lies and got the putter hot today. I’ve played well the last two days, too, and didn’t really hole a lot, but I just had a much better day on the greens.

“I went out there with the mindset that I should hit the golf shots I’ve been hitting all week and hope the putts start rolling in. I had a bit of luck here and there but you need that in a good round of golf.

“The good thing for me is that I’ve set my score now and I can wait and see what happens. I’ll go with the same approach tomorrow, try to keep hitting the shots I have been and see what happens.”

Sullivan, who had a decorated amateur career before gaining his European Tour card at the 2011 Qualifying School, had a mixed first year in the paid ranks and finished 145th in The 2012 Race to Dubai.

A trip back to Qualifying School Final Stage followed – where he succeeded in retaining his playing privileges – and the Nuneaton man says his first year on Tour was educational.

“I learnt a lot being on Tour last year,” he continued. “Not so much about my golf, but more about how to handle myself. It was disappointing last week, I wanted to get off to a fast start after a good week at Q-School, but this makes up for it in a way and hopefully we can kick on for the rest of the season from here.”

Another Englishman who made an early move on Saturday at Leopard Creek was BMW International Open Champion Danny Willett, who fired a five under par 67 - largely thanks to three birdies in his final four holes - to also make strides up the leaderboard as the weekend gained momentum.

Willett chipped in twice – at the driveable par four sixth for eagle and from the greenside bunker at 16 – and despite not being wholly happy with his performance, the Yorkshireman said there was some satisfaction to be taken from his play in the third round.

“I haven’t played well all week to be honest,” admitted Willett. “Even though you wouldn’t say it’s a better way round to do things, it’s more pleasing than flushing it and not really scoring very well so I definitely would have taken 67 if someone had offered me that this morning.

“It’s a great golf course in that if you play badly you are going to shoot a high one but if you play well then there is a low one out there.”