McIlroy doubles his Masters' lead

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during third round play at the...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during third round play at the 2011 Masters tournament in Augusta on April 9, 2011. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:20 PM ET

AUGUSTA — There will be plenty of doubters, to be sure. At 21, Rory McIlroy will have the weight of the ages on his shoulders as he walks to the first tee Sunday afternoon.

Can this young Irishman handle it?

Let’s put it this way: what, exactly, has he done this week or in his stellar young career that would tell you he can’t?

“I’ve played in nine majors,” he said. “I’ve finished in the top three in three of my last five major championships. I can handle this.

“I feel comfortable with my game, comfortable with how I have prepared and now I am suddenly comfortable on this golf course.”

McIlroy took a two-shot lead into the third round of the Masters Saturday and by day’s end he had doubled it. He played that panic-free kind of golf that is a requirement at Augusta. He made two bogeys and a birdie in the first 10 holes, then birdied three of the last six while most of the other leaders were shooting themselves in the foot.

It’s true that the enormous pressure of trying to shepherd a lead through the perils he will face, both from his opponents and from the frailties of his own mind, will be daunting. He admits he’s going to be nervous on the first tee and that he really doesn’t know quite how he’s going to feel.

“I’m excited to find out,” he said. “If I wasn’t nervous there would be something wrong. I can only control what I do and through three rounds I’ve controlled what I do pretty well.”

No doubt, he will have a quiet chat or two with his countryman Graeme McDowell, who won the United States Open last summer and will no doubt have some advice for McIlroy.

“(McDowell) just texted me and told me he loved me,” said McIlroy, with an uncertain smile.

“I’m not quite sure what that means. I think it’s the beer talking.”

Truth is, McIlroy has his feet planted firmly on the ground. He believes in himself without being overconfident. And did we mention he has a bit of game?

The number one thing McIlroy will have to understand and embrace Sunday is the fact that par is his friend.

“I’ve had a plan all week and I’m going to stick with it. We all know where the pins are going to be. There are some you can attack and others you hit away from and try to take your par. I can’t be playing defensively but neither can I do something stupid.”

With a four-shot lead, somebody in the chase pack will have to throw up a bunch of birdies before they get his attention.

“To be thinking about other players would be very naive on my part,” said McIlroy.

Those same players were in pursuit yesterday and McIlroy did not flinch. he stuck to his plan, took advantage of the opportunities he made for himself and fashioned a round of two-under-par 70, easy as pie.

“There are a lot of guys four shots back, so there’s a lot of pressure on us to obviously go out there and score early and try and put some pressure on him so he can make some mistakes I guess,” said Jason Day, who has seen the McIlroy Show up close the past three days.

“He’s very mentally tough. He’s a great golfer, and if he wins this thing tomorrow, he deserves it, definitely.”

It is an unassailable fact that experience is a key around Augusta National. It helps also to have won in the Sunday cauldron of a major championship. But experience is a relative thing. Maybe McIlroy, with his talent and brains and calm demeanour, has learned some lessons it takes others many, many years to absorb.

“The guys that have been there, they are experienced,” said Day. “They are not going to be as nervous as the younger guys. So obviously I think Rory is going to be a little nervous tomorrow, but the way he’s hitting it, he’s going to be very, very tough to catch. We need to work at it and hopefully one of us can catch him.”

He didn’t sound very convincing.


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