Hoylake, England (SportsNetwork.com) - Rory McIlroy eagled two of the last three holes on Saturday to extend his lead to six strokes at the Open Championship.
McIlroy, who was tied for the lead with Rickie Fowler after 12 holes, carded a 4-under 68 in round three to end 54 holes at 16-under-par 200. He will go for the third leg of the grand slam on Sunday, having already won the Masters and U.S. Open. He won both of those titles by eight strokes.
"It was a day for patience for me because I didn't get off to the best of starts with a bogey on one. I knew there were some good chances coming up though," said McIlroy. "I knew we had some down wind holes on the back nine and we had a chance to make some ground up."
Fowler birdied three in a row from the 10th to reach 6-under for the day and 12-under for the championship. However, he played the last five holes in plus-2 as he also carded a 68 on Saturday at Royal Liverpool. Fowler stands at 10-under-par 206.
Sergio Garcia shot 3-under 69 and ended alongside Dustin Johnson (71) in third place at minus-9. Victor Dubuisson, the WGC-Match Play runner-up, carded a 68 of his own to end in fifth at 8-under 208.
Edoardo Molinari also posted a 68 to move into sixth at minus-7. World No. 1 Adam Scott posted a 3-under 69. He was joined in seventh place by 2003 U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk (71), Robert Karlsson (70), 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel (72) and Matteo Manassero (68) at 6-under 210.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson rallied from a tough front nine for a 1- under 71. He is tied for 34th at 1-under 215.
Three-time Open champion Tiger Woods stumbled late in the round and shot a 1- over 73. He is tied for 58th at 3-over 219.
With bad weather expected on Saturday, players went off the first and 10th tees for the first time in Open Championship history. However, that weather never materialized. Throughout the day, there was little wind and some rain, which only briefly was hard enough for players to don full rain gear.
With the softer conditions, 35 players broke par in round three, with 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke and Jordan Spieth leading the way with 5-under 67s.
McIlroy stumbled to a bogey at the first, but 2-putted for birdie on the fifth for his third birdie in three days on the par-5.
Fowler was one of several players that got off to flying starts. He birdied four of the first six holes to jump to 10-under, where he trailed McIlroy by two. He tripped to a bogey on No. 7 to slide three back before McIlroy made a lengthy par putt on the same hole.
"This gave me a lot of momentum. This was a huge par save for me after hitting it into the right rough," McIlroy said of his putt on seven.
Around the turn, Fowler made his move. He rolled in an 18-footer for birdie at 10 and followed with another birdie on the 11th. McIlroy also birdied the 11th before Fowler made his third straight birdie on No. 12.
McIlroy found rough off the 12th tee and that led to a bogey, which dropped him into a share of the lead with Fowler.
But it was all McIlroy from there.
After Fowler tripped to a bogey on the 14th, McIlroy birdied the same hole to move two clear. He reached the par-5 16th in two shots and drained a 20-footer for eagle to jump five clear, after Fowler bogeyed 16.
"I was really looking forward to getting after a couple holes coming in, especially with the two par-5s. I just hit a couple sloppy tee shots that definitely cost me," Fowler said. "Little bit of room for improvement tomorrow."
Both Fowler and McIlroy missed the green at the par-4 17th long and left, and both failed to get up and down for par. Fowler briefly trimmed his deficit to four with an up-and-down birdie at the par-5 18th.
McIlroy responded in stellar fashion. He knocked his second shot inside 12 feet at the last and drained that putt for another eagle and a 6-stroke lead.
"Those were my best two shots of the day," McIlroy said of his two shots at 18. "The drive was pure and a 5-iron from like 237 (yards). As soon as it left the club, it was all over (the pin). It ran up there nicely to 12 feet. It was a pretty simple putt, and I pured it right in the middle."
Fowler is in familiar territory as he also played in the final group at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst last month. Granted, Martin Kaymer was a runaway winner there, but Fowler shared second place for his second top-5 finish of the year.
"If I can get off to a solid start like I did today, I've got to be in a position to put pressure on (Rory). I was in a similar position at the U.S. Open, being in the final group, but I wasn't able to get off to as good a start as I needed. We'll see if we can do it tomorrow," said Fowler.
NOTES: McIlroy owns the 54-hole lead for the 10th time in his career ... He has won five of the previous nine times in that position, including winning two of the three majors he led entering the final round ... McIlroy's 6-shot lead is the biggest since Woods was six clear in 2000 at St. Andrews ... The largest lead lost at the Open Championship is five strokes, MacDonald Smith (1925) and Jean Van de Velde (1999) ... Fowler came from behind at his lone PGA Tour win at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship ... Kaymer is tied for 45th at plus-1 after carding an even-par round on Saturday.