Jordan Spieth beats the clock to stay in contention in Abu Dhabi
Published 23/01/2016 | 09:26
Two days after receiving a warning for slow play, world number one Jordan Spieth won a race against time to reignite his bid for victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
In an extraordinary finish to the day's play, Spieth completed the final hole of his third round alongside five other players in near-darkness in order to avoid an early return to Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Sunday.
Spieth knew he could play the ninth if just one member of his group teed off before the siren sounded to suspend play, and the 22-year-old did so with seconds to spare as the group in front stood aside.
The Masters and US Open champion then made par alongside playing partners Soren Kjeldsen and Pablo Larrazabal, as well as Eddie Pepperell, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Tyrrell Hatton in an unofficial "six-ball".
"I've never done that before," admitted Spieth, whose flawless 68 left him seven under par, three behind joint leaders Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Branden Grace, Rickie Fowler and Joost Luiten.
"We got up there and didn't really know if there were any rules around us, who tees off first. We let them tee off first and I was first to tee off (in his group) and as I struck my shot, the horn blew. We were all very, very relieved to have that happen. It saved us about five-plus hours in arriving to the course tomorrow.
"We were all asking the guys in front of us, if you guys want to, just go finish and we'll play behind you, that's the way it's supposed to be. They didn't really mind, plus Eddie's ball was picked up and so they had to wait a while in the fairway. They didn't care at all. They're good guys."
Asked if he appreciated the irony after being given a monitoring penalty for slow play on the eighth hole on Thursday, Spieth added: " How about that?
"I even asked one of the officials on number seven green, I said, 'Would you guys mind at least giving us a five-minute warning when the horn is going to blow,' because it's blowing earlier than it is in the States.
"I'm just fortunate that ball got in the air. Very easily could have waited another 10 and we're standing on the ninth tee."
Spieth might have made it comfortably if not for England's Andy Sullivan - who was in the final group on the other side of the draw - getting into trouble on the ninth.
Sullivan had been two shots clear before losing a ball in a bush and the resulting triple-bogey seven dropped the 28-year-old to nine under par.
Playing partner McIlroy had recorded three birdies and a bogey on the front nine after earlier boosting his chances of a first win in Abu Dhabi after four second places in the last five years with a spectacular finish to his second round.
McIlroy had been one over par for the 13 holes he completed on Friday and looked set for more frustration after missing early birdie chances, but then almost holed his approach to the last two holes to leave tap-ins for a birdie and an eagle.
"I needed that," McIlroy said. "I could not hole a putt from outside two feet so I thought I would hit a couple inside two feet!
"I said to JP (Fitzgerald, his caddie) on the 17th tee 'Let's finish three, three so I don't know if I should say I need 18 threes on the first tee. I knew 18 was a good chance and 17 was downwind so I'd be going in with a wedge, but I didn't quite expect to do what I did on 18. That was nice.
"It glossed over a pretty average round to be fair. But when you are not at your best, to be able to come away with a 70 and keep in touch with the leaders, I'm happy with that."
McIlroy, whose 268-yard five-wood approach to the 18th appeared to graze the edge of the hole, added: "I've never had an albatross and my dad's had one or two so that would have been nice."
Round three was scheduled to resume at 0740 local time on Sunday, weather permitting, with McIlroy and Sullivan having nine holes to play.
Luiten had eight holes left, Fowler seven and Poulter five, with Grace returning to play the 17th and 18th.