First-round leader Bryson DeChambeau only made it to the turn, while the threesome of Masters champion Jordan Spieth, four-times major winner Rory McIlroy and World No 6 Rickie Fowler walked off after 13 difficult holes that yielded just four birdies between them.
Sullivan (67) was unperturbed, however, picking up shots on his first three and last three holes to reach the tournament’s halfway stage on 10-under.
“My putter was getting hot early doors and I lost my way in the middle. I’m really happy with the fight back at the end,” he said.
Sullivan has gone from stacking shelves as an amateur to World No 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 playing partner and European captain Darren Clarke.
“We’ve both got a similar sense of humour and he just enjoys taking the mick out of the short fat guy,” Sullivan joked.
“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 US Masters champion Ian Woosnam, describing the 28-year-old as the complete package.
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 No 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.”
DeChambeau is a stroke adrift, while four players – Joost Luiten, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Bjorn and Richard Bland – are on 7-under. The latter two have seven holes to play.
Physics student DeChambeau, resuming on 8-under, rolled in eight and 20-foot birdies on his first and third holes to reclaim joint leadership, the eccentric amateur later grinning as he doffed his flat-cap and whipped up the crowd.
Yet a bogey at his last after finding the bunker dragged the Californian back to 9-under.
“The last was kind of a killer, but it’s golf. I’ve just got to learn from it and say, ‘hey, got to hit the fairway next time’,” said DeChambeau, who is unusual in playing with clubs of all the same length. “I didn’t have my A-game today.”
The 22-year-old was unperturbed by the prospect of playing 27 holes today and will resume at the first tee after starting from hole 10.
Resuming on 6-under, McIlroy must have fancied his chances of reeling in Sullivan, but the Northern Irishman struggled with the putter.
He made par on the first eight holes, a sequence that ended with a bogey on nine, and was grim-faced after missing birdie chances at 12 and 13.
McIlroy will start on 5-under, two clear of World No 1 Spieth who sunk successive bogeys at holes four and five before claiming a shot back at the par-5 10th.
He was fortunate on the ninth, his tee shot striking the rear of a spectator standing to the left of the fairway - the ball was destined for the water but instead thudded into the rough and Spieth was able to scramble for par.
Fowler, who began the day on 2-under, made three birdies in an unblemished display to pull level with McIlroy.
World No 5 Henrik Stenson carded four bogeys as the Swede slipped to 4-under with six holes to play.
Original source: ‘Short fat guy’ Sullivan cards 67