ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Jordan Spieth has recorded many firsts in his short 22 years on this planet. He racked up another in the third round of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
He played in a six-ball.
Spieth recorded a 4-under 68 on Saturday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to move into contention. He lies just three shots off the lead held by the quintet of Joost Luiten, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Branden Grace and Rickie Fowler.
The only problem for the two-time major champion is that the above five still have to complete their third rounds, as another fog delay of nearly three hours on Saturday forced a suspension of play due to darkness. This quintet can put some distance between themselves and Spieth.
“Some crazy round tomorrow has got a chance which is odd with the way my game has been,” Spieth said.
Spieth finished his round in near darkness. The horn to suspend play sounded just after his swing on the ninth tee, his 18th.
He and playing partners Soren Kjeldsen and Pablo Larrazabal ended up on the ninth green along with the trio ahead of them – Eddie Pepperell, Tyrell Hatton and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
“I’ve not played a six-ball before, that was a first,” Spieth admitted.
“The horn sounded and I hit my tee shot at the buzzer.
“We didn’t really know what to do. Eddie’s ball was picked up, so they had to wait a while. Pablo just decided to hit so we just decided to hit with them.”
Spieth’s group wasn’t given clear advice on how to proceed. So much so that he finished 16 minutes after the horn sounded at 5:54 p.m. local time.
“I asked one of the officials on seven green (about this). I said: ‘would you guys mind just giving us a five-minute warning when the horn’s going to go?’
“I don’t know if they saw us on the tee at the same time and just assumed we’d hit but we didn’t get a warning. I’m just fortunate my ball got in the air.”
Spieth is in contention despite not having his A game this week. However, he’s rediscovered his driving to give himself a chance of his first solo European Tour win (his major championship victories count as both PGA and European Tour wins).
“I started out this tournament not driving the ball particularly well the first 12-13 holes. Since then my driver has been on and that’s given me some chances.
“I’ve just been a little more patient going around my body. I was getting a little bit quick and was kind of mis-hitting them, hitting a couple of hooks.
“My big thing now is I’m trying to roll the face open to neutral because it’s been a little shut going back. That’s what I worked on last week with my coach. It’s harder to do with my driver because it’s hardest to trust that the ball is not going to go right. So I started to trust it by being a little bit more patient on my backswing.”
One bad tee shot cost England’s Andy Sullivan the outright lead. He lost his ball in a bush to the right of the ninth fairway en route to a triple-bogey seven that dropped him to 9 under.
McIlroy enters his last 27 holes as the outright favorite to take the title. He has four runner-up finishes here. The smart money is on him to go one better this week.
“There are 27 holes left to play and hopefully I can play a good back nine tomorrow morning and set myself up for an exciting last 18,” McIlroy said.
Fowler has flown under the radar this week with all the attention on Spieth. He’s making the most of it.
“My game feels really good and I’m swinging well,” Fowler said. “I’ve kind of rounded into form as the week has gone on.”
Sunday will be a long day and could turn into a battle among many players. There are 30 players within four shots of the lead.