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Rory on Cruise Control at Open Championship


After opening with a pair of 6-under 66s at Royal Liverpool to forge a four-stroke lead heading into the weekend, Rory McIlroy carded a 68 Saturday to enter Sunday's final round with a six-shot edge over the elite field in the Open Championship..

For the second day in a row the 25-year-old Northern Irishman carded a bogey on the tough par-4 first hole. But he got a birdie on the par-5 fifth to make the turn in even-par 35. On the par-37 home half, which includes par-5s on two of the last three holes, McIlroy posted two birdies, a pair of bogeys and eagles on both the 16th and 18th for a 4-under 33.

He stands at 16-under 200, a half-dozen strokes ahead of Rickie Fowler, who also posted a 68, and seven in front of Spain's Sergio Garcia (69) and South Carolinian Dustin Johnson (71).

Early on the back nine Fowler tied McIlroy for the lead. The young Californian birdied seven holes - with a bogey on the par-4 seventh - to pull even with the Ulsterman after 12 holes. That got the attention of McIlroy, who was even-par at that point. "I knew. I could hear the cheers up in front," McIlroy told ESPN of Fowler's charge.

But McIlroy quickly answered. His eagle on the closing hole capped the comeback and gave him what may be an insurmountable lead at Hoylake. "It was a day for patience from me because I didn't get off to the best of starts," McIlroy said. "Then I knew on the back nine we had a few holes downwind and we had a chance to make some ground up again."

McIlroy is in position to make history on Sunday at the 143rd Open Championship. He's within reach of the Open all-time scoring record of 19-under (set by Woods at St. Andrews in 2000) and the lowest total of 267 (set by Greg Norman in 1993 at Royal St. George's). If he's awarded the claret jug as the "Champion Golfer of the Year," McIlroy will have victories in three of the four major championships (he won the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship).

McIlroy also can join Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only two players to win three majors by the age of 25 in the pre-Masters era, and will become the 17th golfer to win three Grand Slam titles.

"Lots to play for tomorrow . . . It's just about trying to control yourself and control your emotions. It's a huge day in my career and I feel like I'm up to the task," said McIlroy, who has the largest 54-hole Open lead since Woods' six-shot edge. History is on his side as no player has ever lost the Open when holding a lead of six strokes or more entering Sunday.

McIlroy said his mindset is ready for the challenge. "I'm comfortable leading the tournament," said McIlroy, who this week has used a personal, unrevealed mantra prior to each shot. "This is the third night in a row that I'll sleep on the lead. It helps that I've been in this position before and I've been able to convert and I've been able to get the job done.

"I'm comfortable with how I'm hitting it. Really comfortable on the greens. I just need to go out there tomorrow and play one more solid round and hopefully that's enough."

Fowler, who finished his promising round with three bogeys and a birdie in the last five holes, told reporters later that he'll need a combination of McIlroy faltering and him playing very well. "If I'm able to go out and get off to a good start, maybe I can put a little bit of pressure on him, because he's definitely in control of the golf tournament right now," said Fowler, who will be paired with McIlroy in the last group.

But it's clear the ultra-talented, mop-haired youngster from County Down is pretty focused. "Whenever you have such a big lead, you really can't think about anyone else but yourself. You have to think about how you're going to control your emotions," McIlroy said.

"How you're going to control whatever thoughts you have, trying to stay completely in the present and focus on what you need to do."

Because of threatening weather Saturday morning, the players were put into threesomes and started on both the first and 10th tees.

Frenchman Victor Dubuisson followed up his 66 Friday with a 68 and is in solo fifth at 8-under 208, while another shot back is Italy's Edoardo Molinari, who also shot 68.

Tied for seventh at 210 are Italian Matteo Manassero (68), No. 1-ranked Adam Scott of Australia (69), Sweden's Robert Karlsson (70), American Jim Furyk (71) and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel (72).

Dallas native Jordan Spieth and 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland matched the low round of the day, a 5-under 67. The 45-year-old Clarke is tied for 12th at 5-under 211 with fellow major champions Graeme McDowell (68) and Justin Rose (69), Australia's Marc Leishman (70), Scotsman Marc Warren (72) and Americans Jimmy Walker (71) and Ryan Moore (73).

Spieth moved into a share for 23rd at 3-under 213 with seven others.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson posted a 71 and heads into Sunday at 1-under 215.

After getting off to a promising start with a 69, Tiger Woods has posted rounds of 77 and 73 to drop way down the leaderboard into a tie for 58th. Starting on the 10th hole Saturday, the 14-time major winner - playing in only his second tournament since undergoing back surgery March 31 - posted five birdies, three of which came on his opening nine holes. With a bogey on the par-3 15th (his sixth hole) Woods made the turn in 2-under 35.

But on his last nine, following a birdie on the first, he had a double-bogey on the second and a triple on the seventh when he lost his tee shot in gorse. Woods closed with a birdie on the par-3 ninth for a 38. "I just made too many mistakes," he lamented.

For all the scores, visit http://www.theopen.com/en/Leaderboard.aspx.