Don’t let his youthful appearance full you. Rory McIlroy is the man, and his play at the 2011 Masters is letting everyone know that he could be the man for a long time to come. McIlroy posted a 2-under 70 on Saturday, taking advantage of a leaderboard that failed to keep up with him to take a 4-shot lead into the final 18 holes at Augusta National.
The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland finished 54 holes at 12-under 204 and is comfortably ahead at Augusta National. In fact, McIlroy owns the largest 54- hole lead at the Masters since Tiger Woods’ epic run in 1997.
Former winner Angel Cabrera fired a five-under 67 on Saturday and vaulted into a tie for second place at eight-under 208. Charl Schwartzel (68), K.J. Choi (71) and Jason Day (72) joined Cabrera in the tie for second.
Woods never got any putts to fall on Saturday. After his 66 on Friday got him into a tie for third place, Woods, a four-time Masters champion, struggled to a two-over 74 and fell into a tie for ninth place at minus-five.
“I swung the club well all day. That wasn’t the problem,” said Woods, who missed a two-footer for par at 11 on Saturday. “I had two three-putts in there and then I hit just a lot of beautiful putts that didn’t go in. Could have easily been three-, or four-, or five-under par.”
Defending champion Phil Mickelson shot a one-under 71 on Saturday and is tied for 18th place at three-under 213.
But they all will need some special, or maybe even miraculous round to catch McIlroy.
Early on, Day caught McIlroy with two birdies in his first three holes, but McIlroy drained a six-footer for birdie at the fourth to move one ahead. McIlroy drove into a bunker en route to a bogey at the fifth, and, when Day rolled in a long birdie putt at the same hole, Day was one clear.
Day bogeyed the sixth and seventh to give McIlroy the lead. He was nine-under par and stayed at that number until the 10th. He missed the green left and his chip came up eight feet short of the cup. McIlroy’s par putt stayed above ground and he fell into a tie for first with Day and Choi.
“Things weren’t going that well for me,” admitted McIlroy. “I stuck to my game plan really well, stayed really patient. That was the key thing for me, just really staying patient.”
Choi fell down the leaderboard thanks to a missed six-footer at 11 and a three-putt bogey from 15 feet at the 12th.
The par-five 13th proved to be a swing hole. Day hit a poor second that left him in a nearly impossible spot left of the pin. McIlroy knocked his second 35 feet right of the cup. Day didn’t hit his chip hard enough and the ball came back to him. He ended up with a bogey, but McIlroy two-putted for birdie to take a two-shot lead.
It looked like McIlroy might pick up more shots at the par-five 15th. Day barely cleared the water, but the 21-year-old hit it 20 feet right of the flag. Day hammered his chip past the hole and McIlroy lagged his eagle putt close. Day made his long birdie putt, but McIlroy tapped in to keep the cushion at two.
At the 16th, Day missed a six-foot par putt to fall to eight-under and three behind McIlroy. One hole later, McIlroy missed the fairway left, but hit his second 30 feet over the stick. McIlroy sank the long birdie putt to move his advantage to four.
After a fist pump and some massive reaction from the gallery, McIlroy split the fairway at the 18th. He hit his approach to 20 feet, but missed the putt, meaning he will be only four in front in his bid for his first major championship.
“I hit two great shots into the last, so it would have been nice to hole the putt. But you know what, I’m happy with where everything is at,” said McIlroy. “I felt as if I handled my emotions really well out there today, and hopefully I can just keep it up tomorrow.”
It might be a tough night for McIlroy. He’s never had the 54-hole lead in a major before and there’s some pressure since the lead is so large. McIlroy shared the first-round lead with Alvaro Quiros and has been in front by himself after the other two rounds, but the 21-year-old McIlroy isn’t too worried.
“I’ll sleep all right,” said McIlroy. "I probably won’t get to bed until later on. There’s a big rugby match on tomorrow. Ulster, my team, are playing Northampton, so I’ll have to get up at about 10:00 a.m. (et) to watch that.
“I haven’t had any trouble sleeping the last three nights, so hopefully it’ll be the same.”
Adam Scott carded a five-under 67 on Saturday and moved into a tie for sixth place with Luke Donald, who had a 69 in round three. The pair finished at minus-seven, which was one shot better than Bo Van Pelt, whose 68 got him into eighth at six-under 210.
Woods was joined at five-under by 51-year-old Fred Couples (72), Bubba Watson (67), Ross Fisher (71) and Geoff Ogilvy (73).