His once-comfortable lead gone, Rory McIlroy could have flinched.
Instead, he blew everyone away.
With a stunning display down the stretch, including a pair of eagles, McIlroy put a stranglehold on his third major championship by shooting a 4-under 68 Saturday, sending him to the final round of the British Open with a daunting six-shot edge.
McIlroy came into the day up by four after back-to-back 66s, only to start slowly and find himself tied for the top spot when Rickie Fowler birdied seven of the first 12 holes.
But, in a lightning-quick turnaround, McIlroy rolled in a 35-foot birdie at the 14th and an eagle at the 16th. Fowler bogeyed both holes, a five-shot swing in just under an hour.
When McIlroy made another eagle at the 18th after what he called “my two best shots of the day,” he pushed his score to 16-under 200 and seized the largest 54-hole Open lead since Tiger Woods was six strokes ahead at St. Andrews in 2000.
No one has ever blown such a big advantage on the final day of golf’s oldest major championship.
“I felt Rickie close to me. I was able to turn it on when I needed to,” McIlroy said. “Now, it’s about trying to control yourself, control your emotions, go out and play a good, solid round of golf.”
That should be good enough to push him another step closer to the career Grand Slam at the tender age of 25. Boy Wonder already captured the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship, both in eight-shot runaways.
This is looking very much like another blowout.
“I would be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, it would be nice going to Augusta next year trying to complete that (at the Masters). I’ve got a lot to play for tomorrow. It’s a huge day for me.”
Fowler settled for a 68 and was at 206. Sergio Garcia shot 69 and was another shot back at 207.
“It’s going to be difficult, but we'll give it a shot,” Garcia said.
Meanwhile, Irmo native Dustin Johnson, who was second going into Saturday’s third round, finished 7 back from the leader, at 9 under.
1. Rory McIlroy: -16
2. Rickie Fowler: -10
3. Sergio Garcia: -9
4. Dustin Johnson: -9
5. Victor Dubuisson: -8
6. Edoardo Molinari: -7
7. (tie) Jim Furyk: -6
(tie) Robert Karlsson: -6
(tie) Matteo Manassero: -6
(tie) Charl Schwartzel: -6
(tie) Adam Scott -6