Rory McIlroy pumps his fist after making a birdie putt on the 17th hole during the third round of the Masters.
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — On a day when some players charged up the leaderboard and others tumbled off like marbles on a crooked table, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland never wavered from his lofty perch.
With the way he has performed for three days at the 75th Masters, it might take an NFL linebacker to knock him from the top of the leaderboard.
Nobody has been able to do it yet.
Looking as unflappable as a Queen's guardsman and in total control of his shots, McIlroy, 21, will try to become the youngest winner of the green jacket since Tiger Woods in 1997 when he carries a four-stroke lead into the final round Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.
"I'm not getting ahead of myself," said McIlroy, who is at 12-under 204 after 54 holes. "I know how leads can dwindle away very quickly. I have to go out there and not take anything for granted and play as hard as I have the last three days."
After starting the third round with a two-shot lead, McIlroy added to his margin Saturday with a two-putt birdie from 20 feet at No. 15 and a 33-foot birdie at No. 17 — the latter drawing a raised putter in a manner similar to Jack Nicklaus on that same hole in '86.
That capped a third-round 70 that put him in position to win his first major championship and become the first European to win the green jacket since Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain in '99.
"A win for me personally would be huge," McIlroy said. "For the game of golf, it would be nice as well. It would be nice to get a major early and show some of the young guys it is possible. But we'll see what happens."
McIlroy has either shared the lead or held the lead since the first round at Augusta National, and it's no wonder: He has made only three bogeys, leads the field in driving distance (303.3 yards) and is one of only four players who hasn't had a three-putt green in 54 holes.
"I feel very comfortable with the way I've been swinging it for three days," McIlroy said. "There's no reason I won't be able to do that [Sunday]. I definitely feel my swing is in a great spot at the minute."
Jason Day, 23, trying to become the first Australian player to win the Masters, birdied two of the first three holes and shared the lead with McIlroy through 12 holes at 9 under. But, at the par-5 13th, Day made a costly bogey when he over-cooked his second shot from the fairway, and McIlroy two-putted from 30 feet for birdie for a pivotal two-shot swing.
Day shot 72 and is one of four players at 8-under 208, four shots behind McIlroy.
"Well, with the way he's hitting the ball, Rory can pretty much go out there and shoot a couple under par and win," Day said. "There's a lot of pressure on us to go out there and score early and put some pressure on him. But he's very mentally tough and a great golfer. If he wins this thing, he deserves it."
For the first time in the 75-year history of the Masters, there is no American among the top five spots on the leaderboard heading into the final round.
The highest is Bo Van Pelt, a one-time winner on the PGA Tour who is eighth after shooting 68 despite a bogey at the final hole. He is alone at 210.
Woods, who made nine birdies in a second-round 66, made only two in the third round and shot 74. He is tied for ninth with four others players, including Fred Couples and Bubba Watson, seven shots back.
"I'm pleased with the way I played; I just made nothing," Woods said. "I hit the ball well all day, that wasn't the problem. I'll have to put together a good front nine and see what happens."
Curiously, the only player among the top eight on the leaderboard who has won a major championship is Angel Cabrera, a former Masters and U.S. Open champion.
Cabrera, who won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, tied for the day's low round with a 67 to climb into third-place with Day. Joining them are Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and K.J. Choi of Korea.
It was a surprising surge from Cabrera, who stopped playing for six months because his game was so bad.
"I actually stopped playing from August to January," Cabrera said. "My swing wasn't the same, but I've been working on it and just keep plugging."
Australian Adam Scott, who hasn't won a major in 39 appearances, matched Cabrera's 67 to finish at 7-under 209. He is tied with reigning Match Play champion Luke Donald, who made only one bogey in a round of 69.
"That's one thing going for me — I have played the course a lot," said Scott, who is making his 10th Masters appearance. "This year I feel like somewhat familiar with it, going around the course, knowing a lot of putts knowing where to miss it. I think I've played enough rounds of golf to understand almost everything here."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.