Impressive Rory McIlroy takes three shot lead at Doral

The world number three looked close to his best with a bogey-free 68 at Trump National

Rory McIlroy takes his shot out of the bunker on the eighth hole during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral Blue Monster Course in Doral, Florida. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has captured three of golf‘s four major championships, and as his game kicked into another gear and he methodically took apart the Blue Monster course at Trump National Resort on Saturday, talk will soon shift to the major title he covets most.

Fittingly, McIlroy was paired in the final group with Adam Scott, who owns what McIlroy needs to complete a career grand slam: the Masters green jacket. McIlroy erased Scott's two-stroke lead early in the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship and began distancing himself from the field. McIlroy fired a 4-under-par 68, good for a 12-under total of 204 and a three-stroke lead over Scott and defending champion Dustin Johnson heading into Sunday's final round.

Every iota of McIlroy‘s talent appeared to coalesce in his bogey-free round. He made two nice par saves but was never in serious trouble. He now has 11 birdies and zero bogeys in his past 33 holes. And the switch of his putting stroke to a left-hand low grip has reaped instant results, accounting for 27 putts Saturday (after 23 on Friday) and signaling his readiness for the Masters next month at Augusta National.

“I always say I want to go into Augusta with at least one win under my belt each year,“ McIlroy said. “The best way to prepare is to get yourself into contention. What shows up weaknesses in your game is being under pressure at critical moments and seeing how it holds up. And for three days, my game‘s held up very well. We‘ll go out tomorrow and try to play another solid round, and hopefully that‘s good enough.“


Johnson was in second place by himself, but he bogeyed No. 18 to shoot 71 and drop to 9 under. Scott sputtered throughout his 1-over 73 before a bogey at No. 17 left him tied with Johnson. “Rory is obviously playing well, but a good score around here will definitely move you up the leaderboard,” said Johnson, who trailed by five strokes going into last year‘s final round. He rallied to win by a shot. Johnson is attempting to join Tiger Woods (2005-06) and Raymond Floyd (1980-81) as the only players to win consecutive titles at Doral.

"Getting off to a good start will definitely help to put some pressure on him. I've just got to go out and shoot as low as I can," Johnson said. Phil Mickelson shot 70, grinding out seven consecutive pars before unleashing a drive that nearly reached the green at the par-4 16th. He narrowly missed an eagle chip, tapped in for birdie and finished at 7 under par, tied for fourth with Bubba Watson (71) and Danny Willett (72).

Jordan Spieth, the world‘s No. 1-ranked player, struggled to a 73, carding three birdies and four bogeys and falling into a tie for 17th. “Nothing really went my way,“ said Scott, who is trying to post victories in consecutive weeks after winning the Honda Classic. “It was one of those days where you just don‘t quite hit it close enough and then the putts don‘t go in. Rory played the round everyone was looking for out there. Pretty much stress free.“

Indeed, it was easy to read McIlroy‘s and Scott‘s mood early in the round: Both twirled their clubs often after making contact in the universal sign of hitting a good shot. McIlroy opened with birdies at No. 1 and No. 5, and pulled ahead after Scott bogeyed No. 4.

Their duel heated up at the par-5 eighth. Both players tapped in for birdie after McIlroy feathered a bunker shot tight and Scott missed a 9-footer for eagle, leaving McIlroy with a one-stroke lead. McIlroy made birdie at No. 10, and from there cruised home with eight pars.

“He didn‘t have his best stuff with him today, but he‘s still playing awfully well,” McIlroy said of Scott, who will play with Mickelson in Sunday‘s penultimate group. McIlroy will be paired with Johnson. Yet it is McIlroy‘s putter that has given him a surge of confidence as he seeks a 12th PGA Tour title before age 27, a mark only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have achieved since World War II, according to tour statistics. McIlroy, 26, said he added 30 minutes to his practice routine to work on putting and the left-hand low grip he unveiled for this tournament. He is expected to play one more event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida, in two weeks, before the Masters.

“It was really me just taking ownership of my putting and my putting stroke,” he said of the switch. “I was focusing more on the technical side rather than the feel side. It‘s felt pretty good the last couple days. It‘s felt for the most part instinctive. It feels like it‘s going on there very naturally.”

And good enough to put him on the verge of clinching a victory on Sunday and building momentum going into the Masters, the title he covets most.

Shane Lowry struggled to a 75 to sit way back on three over par while Graeme McDowell carded an impressive round of 70 to lie tied-23rd on one under.

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