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    • THE UPSHOT

      McIlroy could take step closer to career Grand Slam

      Young superstar has already captured U.S. Open and PGA Championship titles in commanding fashion

    • Rory McIlroy holds a six-shot lead entering the final round of The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Rory McIlroy holds a six-shot lead entering the final round of The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    HOYLAKE, England -- Only five people have won the career Grand Slam, and just 10 other pros have gotten three-quarters of the way there.

    Rory McIlroy would like nothing better than to make it 11 on Sunday at Royal Liverpool, then head to Augusta National next year poised to add his fourth.

    McIlroy certainly put himself in prime position, making eagle on two of his last three holes to open a six-stroke lead entering the final round of the 143rd The Open Championship. McIlroy has shown a penchant for dominating victories, too, after winning the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship by eight strokes each.

    Should McIlroy, who is 25, end up completing the wire-to-wire victory, he would be the third-youngest player to put three majors on his resume. Jack Nicklaus was 23 when he won the 1963 PGA while Tiger Woods was 24 when he captured the 2000 U.S. Open -- and both went on to win the career Grand Slam not once, but three times.

    McIlroy is trying not to get ahead of himself, even though many have all but handed him the Claret Jug.

    "It would mean an awful lot," the young Northern Irishman said. "I never thought that I'd be able to be in this position. I didn't think I'd even have the chance at 25 to go for three legs of the Grand Slam.

    "So I'm going to try to put all that out of my head. ... First things first. Just play a good solid round of golf tomorrow and if that means I'm going to Augusta with a bit of hype, then so be it."

    MCILROY: Statistics | Watch his eagle at No. 16 | Eagle at No. 18

    Of course, McIlroy was quick to point out that he came from seven strokes off the pace to win the BMW PGA Championship earlier this year. But as noteworthy as that event is, this is a major, with all the attending pressure, and McIlroy has been supremely confident all week.

    "It helps that I've been in this position before and I've been able to convert," McIlroy said.

    McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, another 25-year-old who will join his good friend in the final group, are the only two players who had posted three rounds in the 60s this week at Royal Liverpool. But McIlroy's six-stroke lead is the largest after 54 holes since Woods held the same advantage at St. Andrews in 2000.

    Woods ended up winning his first career Grand Slam that Sunday at the home of golf, shooting a major championship record 19 under. Interestingly, McIlroy will start the final round four strokes shy of breaking that record thanks to a pair of eagles in his last three holes.

    "I just wanted to try and be as much ahead as I possibly could," McIlroy said.

    The largest come-from-behind victory at an Open is 10 strokes by Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999 when Jean Van de Velde lost a five-stroke advantage after making an ill-advised, water-logged triple bogey from the Barry Burn. But Fowler certainly doesn't expect McIlroy to falter.

    "If I am able to go out and get off to a good start, maybe I can put a little pressure on him because he's definitely in control of the golf tournament right now," Fowler said.


    UPHILL BATTLE: Sergio Garcia knows the task is daunting. After all, Rory McIlroy has turned back every challenge this week.

    On Friday, the Northern Irishman birdied his final two holes to maintain a four-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson. On Saturday, with Rickie Fowler in hot pursuit, McIlroy eagled the 16th and 18th holes to open a six-stroke lead at 16 under.

    Garcia actually had gotten into double figures, too, with a birdie at the 16th hole. But he bogeyed No. 17 and couldn't take advantage of the 18th, so he'll head into the final round in the penultimate group and trailing by seven strokes.

    "The only thing I would have loved to do is hit a couple better shots coming in on 17 and 18," Garcia said. "That was what disappointed me a little more than seeing Rory making birdies and eagles. You can't control that.

    "And if you're disappointed at somebody making birdies and eagles, then you're not a good sportsman. Like what happened to me at Hartford when Kevin Streelman made seven birdies in a row. What you do is go there and say, 'Well done.' He deserves to win when he does that."

    Garcia is playing in his 61st major and is still looking for his first victory. He has 18 top-10s, including three runners-up. Only Lee Westwood has played in more majors without a victory at 63.

    "The only thing I can do is keep putting myself in these situations and hope one day that it will be my turn," Garcia said.


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    BIG CHANGE: Darren Clarke, who tied Jordan Spieth for the day's low round of 67, is a shadow of his former self.

    The distinguishedly graying 45-year-old has lost a considerable amount of weight over the last year, and his golf game is just now beginning to adjust.

    "If you've got 50 or 60 pounds sitting in front of your gut, you're going to swing a lot slower through the ball than you would do otherwise," Clarke said. "And I kept leaving the club behind me."

    After a few tweaks this week, Clarke is more comfortable with his swing and it shows in the 2011 Open champ's solid performance through three rounds. He made his way onto the leaderboard Saturday at 5 under.

    "The ball-striking has been pretty good," Clarke said. "I just need to knock in a few putts and get some momentum going. It feels like I've started to do that."

    Clarke planned to hit the gym Saturday afternoon -- "not quite Jane Fonda's workout but I'll probably ... lift some weight." And while he's eating healthier, he hasn't given up all his vices.

    "I'll probably have a couple of glasses of wine but that's about it," Clarke said. "I'm not a teetotaler angel or anything, far from that."


    SHOT OF THE DAY

    Rory McIlroy eagles No. 18 at The Open
    • Highlights

      Rory McIlroy eagles No. 18 at The Open

    Rory McIlroy eagles No. 18 at The Open
    • Highlights

      Rory McIlroy eagles No. 18 at The Open


    QUOTES OF THE DAY

    “I think obviously it’s easy to say now that it was the wrong decision looking at the weather we’ve had thus far. But if they have a couple of lightning bolts in the next couple of hours, it’s going to mess everybody’s day up, isn’t it?” Darren Clarke on the R&A’s decision for an unprecedented a two-tee start

    “I think everybody was kind of getting ready for a hurricane or extreme rain. So actually, it’s really, really nice out right now. It’s about as nice as you could ever imagine out here.” Keegan Bradley on the weather after finishing off a 69 – about two hours before the rain settled in

    “What you have with him is he’s just so explosive. ... He obviously doesn’t have any issue as the front runner and has no issue trying to extend that lead, much like Tiger used to. “ Jim Furyk on Rory McIlroy

    “I think of the group of guys up there, there’s probably a low one in one of them if they want to win it and they’re going to have to do it. But you never know. We’ve seen so many crazy things happen. I’ve got to give myself some hope, you know.” World No. 1 Adam Scott on how the final round shapes up


    PHOTO GALLERY: Click on the image below to see the best photos from Round 3 at Hoylake.

    Rory McIlroy tees off on No. 16 during the third round of The Open Championship. (Andrew Reddington/Getty Images)


    ODDS AND ENDS

    -- Rory McIlroy is making his 24th start in a major championship this week, and he has collected eight top-10 finishes.

    -- Rickie Fowler is looking to improve on his best finish in the event of T5 in 2011. Fowler missed the cut last year at Murifield, finished T31 in 2012 and T14 in 2010.

    -- Sergio Garcia ranks second in most major starts without a victory entering this week. He has 61 and trails Lee Westwood by just two.

    -- Dustin Johnson is making his sixth consecutive The Open Championship appearance this week. In his previous five, he collected top-15 finishes in 2010 (T14), 2011 (T2) and 2012 (T9). Johnson finished T32 last year at Muirfield. His lone missed cut came in his first start in 2009.

    -- Since turning professional, Tiger Woods has never finished a The Open Championship outside the top 30 (15 starts). He is tied for 58th entering Sunday.


    THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP ROTA


    COURSE STATS

    Category Leader(s) Statistic
    Driving accuracy C. Rodgers, K. Broberg 78.57%
    Greens in regulation K. Broberg 79.63%
    Fewest one-putts R. McIlroy 28
    Most birdies R. Fowler 18
    Low round D. Clarke, Jordan Spieth 5-under 67
         
    Hole stats    
    Hardest hole (in Rd. 3)
    Par-4 seventh 4.319
    Easiest hole (in Rd. 3) Par-5 fifth 4.611

    Rory McIlroy leads alone at The Open
    • Round Recaps

      Rory McIlroy leads alone at The Open

    Rory McIlroy leads alone at The Open
    • Round Recaps

      Rory McIlroy leads alone at The Open

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