McIlroy in perfect spot heading into final round

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Rory McIlroy is hoping to move to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win.
March 03, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- This is what Rory McIlroy has always wanted, and it's where he's starting to be on a regular basis: Atop the leaderboard, in the interview room and poised to be the best in the game.

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McIlroy has a chance to do that literally and figuratively on Sunday. He leads The Honda Classic by two strokes over Tom Gillis and Harris English after a 4-under 66 on a wind-whipped Saturday at PGA National.

"I still hit the same shots last year as I hit now, but maybe I'm just able to hit the shots on a more consistent basis and maybe not have as many destructive shots in the bag," said McIlroy, who for the second week in a row can move to No. 1 in the world with a victory. "We sort of eliminated those."

What he's gained in that level of consistency is what has put him in contention on a regular basis. His game is growing exponentially and so are the results.

Only once since the PGA Championship last August has McIlroy finished outside the top 5, and that was when he was sick in Dubai.

McIlroy is more fit, having shed the baby fat and added lean muscle. He's tightened up his swing and his putting stroke through nothing but basically hard work and natural talent. And it shows.

For the week, McIlroy has just four bogeys and four missed putts out of 50 from inside 10 feet. He's also made a half-dozen from 10-15 feet and is second in the field in birdies.

"I feel maybe a little more focused, a little more motivated," McIlroy said. "It seems like every time I go out there, I play the way I want to and it's a great feeling.

"I think it's knowing when to take pins on and when to fire away from pins and accepting that sometimes par is a good score and moving on. That's something that I think I've really improved at over the last 12 months."

Case in point: A year ago in the third round McIlroy played the Bear Trap -- holes 15, 16 and 17 -- in 6 over with three straight double bogeys. This week, he's played them in 3 under with three birdies, one of which came Saturday, and zero bogeys.

While McIlroy is trying to become No. 1, Gillis is just hoping for victory No. 1.

The 43-year-old journeyman is still looking for his first victory on the PGA TOUR in a career that has spanned more than two decades and 26 countries.

As impressive as McIlroy has looked, Gillis has been nearly as good. He has just two bogeys all week and is tied for sixth in putting with McIlroy.

Still, he's never played in the final group on Sunday out here. He doesn't think golfers are intimidating, but the situation of playing alongside someone who's hitting it as pure as McIlroy can be.

"I would say the whole environment might be intimidating or the whole arena," Gillis said. "I've been on the receiving end of that. I've played good in the last round of events and never missed a shot, and I've sat on the other side and watched somebody never miss a shot, and it's a little bit frustrating, because you're like, hey, how am I going to beat the guy, he hasn't missed and he's in your group.

"Hopefully I don't feel that tomorrow."

As well has McIlroy has played all week he might not have a choice.

Even English couldn't help but be impressed by the player he, too, is trying to catch.

"I think he's the best player in the world right now," the rookie said. "I mean, hands down."

Sunday, McIlroy can make it official.

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