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The Masters: Late burst puts Rory McIlroy in clear

Rory McIlroy remains on course for Masters glory after three superb late birdies made it his day at Augusta yet again.

Even with Tiger Woods unable to mount the charge he was looking for and defending champion Phil Mickelson remaining in the pack, McIlroy found it tough going for much of the third round.

But then, as the sun went down, the Holywood wonder kid regained control of the season's opening major in thrilling fashion.

After finding the green and two-putting the 13th and 15th, the two par fives on the back nine, the 21-year-old Northern Irishman gave his biggest fist-pump of the week when he rolled in a 25-footer at the 17th.

Suddenly, having trailed Australian Jason Day by one after five, he was four clear of the entire field and bang on track to become the second youngest winner of the title in history.

Then, after Woods had bogeyed the last for a 74 that dropped him to ninth place seven behind, McIlroy parred it for a 70 and 12 under aggregate.

With Day, Argentina's Angel Cabrera, South African Charl Schwartzel and Korean KJ Choi in joint second place and then England's Luke Donald and Australian Adam Scott five back in sixth the overseas contingent are dominating the event.

But to McIlroy it will not matter who is chasing him. He just wants to make only his 10th major his first victory - after finishing third in the last two of last season.

"It feels good - I'm in a great position," he said, taking nothing for granted yet.

"I stayed really patient and I'm really happy with how I stuck to my game plans. It paid off in the end.

"I've been saying all week I feel comfortable and I'm posting good numbers."

Woods has won all his 14 majors, including four green jackets, from the front and that does not look like changing.

"I'm pleased with the way I played," he insisted, "but I just made nothing.

"I hit so many putts early that looked like going in and didn't, then I had a couple of three-putts (on 11 for bogey and 15 for par).

"That's not very good. Now I'm going to have to put together a good front nine and see what happens.

"I hit the ball well all day - that was not the problem. Take away the three-putts and give me a few, it could have been a pretty good round."

Lee Westwood, runner-up last year, also shot 74 and went from seventh at halfway to 18th with Mickelson.

He chose not to comment for fear of imitating Wayne Rooney on camera.

Cabrera, winner two years ago after a play-off, came through with a 67 like Scott, while Schwartzel shot 68, Choi 71 and Day 72.

If McIlroy, Cabrera, Schwartzel, Scott or Donald triumph it will complete an unprecedented clean sweep of the majors for European Tour members.

That began, of course, with another Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell becoming Europe's first US Open champion for 40 years at Pebble Beach last June.

South African Louis Oosthuizen then won The Open at St Andrews and world number one Martin Kaymer the US PGA at Whistling Straits.

McIlroy was caught when Day birdied the second and third, but responded with a six-foot birdie on the short next.

Then came a two-stroke swing. The Ryder Cup star was bunkered off the tee at the fifth and bogeyed, while 23-year-old Day - trying to be the first Australian to win and the first debutant since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 - holed a 30-footer up and over a huge ridge.

Never in the position of leading a major before - this is only the third of his career - he three-putted the sixth and bogeyed the seventh as well.

But they were back level when McIlroy had only his third bogey of the week on the 10th and Choi was alongside them at that point.

The closing stretch belonged to the rising star of European golf, though, and with only 18 holes to go he is in dreamland.

But, remembering that Greg Norman went from six clear of Nick Faldo to five behind on the final day in 1996, the job is not yet done.

Belfast Telegraph

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