BETHESDA, June 19, 2011 (AFP) - Relentless Rory McIlroy showed no mercy to his pursuers in the US Open third round on Saturday as he extended his lead at Congressional Country Club to an astonishing eight strokes.
Bristling with confidence, the Ulsterman fired a 68 for a US Open record total of 14-under par and he ended the day comfortably clear of South Korea's Yang Yong-Eun, who was alone in second after a 70.
England's Lee Westwood and Jason Day of Australia, who both had 65s, and Robert Garrigus of the United States, with a 68, were a further stroke back.
McIlroy's eight-stroke lead is the largest at the US Open after 54 holes since Tiger Woods led by 10 at that stage at Pebble Beach in 2000. Woods eventually won by a majors-record 15 strokes.
The Irishman also led the Masters after three rounds in April, by four strokes, before ending up in a tie for 15th after a closing 80.
This time, though, the gap at the top of the leaderboard is enormous for a major tournament and it would take an unprecedented collapse for McIlroy to be deprived of his first major title at the tender age of 22.
"What I did today, I tried to set myself a little target, little goals, just because it kept me from focusing on the leaderboard and focusing on how far ahead I was or anything like that," he said.
"So just giving yourself little goals throughout the round, that really kept me in the present and kept me focused on my game."
Playing with Yang, McIlroy started the day with a six-stroke margin, the equal-best-ever halfway lead in US Open history.
He parred the first three holes and then a birdie at the fifth, coupled with a bogey from Yang on the second, when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker, meant that McIlroy had extended his lead over the Korean to seven.
The Irishman then narrowly missed a long putt for eagle at the ninth, but the ensuing birdie tap-in left him two-under for the day and 13-under for the tournament, eight ahead of the field.
The Ulsterman had blown the field apart in the first two days with rounds of 65 and 66 giving him the lowest first 36 holes in US Open history.
He had stood at 11-under, six clear of second-placed Yang with a group of five players a further three strokes adrift.
McIlroy dropped just his second stroke of the tournament when he failed to get up and down from a bunker at the tricky par-three 10th.
But it was back to business as usual at the next hole, the hardest on the course, which he birdied with a 12-footer and celebrated with a delighted punch of his fist.
His golf was of the tallest order and a six-footer for birdie at the 14th made him the first golfer in US Open history to get to 14-under par.
He stayed there to the end of the round, missing a 10-footer at the last which would have got him to 15 under.
Yang dug in and birdies at 14 and 16 kept him in second and ensured him another outing in the company of McIlroy on Sunday.
"I wanted to catch up a little bit, but at the same time, the player with the better shot, with the better putt, with the better composure is leading right now. So I have no regrets," was his blunt assessment of his position.
Westwood, a Ryder Cup partner of McIlroy, began the day seemingly out of it at one-over and he did little of note down the front nine.
But three birdies and an eagle in a four-hole stretch from the 13th suddenly saw him leap into second place as he came in with a tournament equal-best of 65.
"You don't know how Rory is going to do. You don't know how he's going to deal with the big lead," said Westwood optimistically.
"He had a big lead in a major and didn't deal with it well before. There's pressure on him with regards to that."
On another hot, humid day outside Washington, Day also got to five under after another spectacular round of 65, which included birdies in three of the last four holes.
"The more times I put myself in this position, the better chance I have of winning a tournament," said 23-year-old Day, who finished in a tie for second at the Masters in April.
"I'm very excited to be where I am right now. I'm just looking forward to tomorrow. Obviously it's going to be pretty tough to see if we can try and catch Rory."
Defending champion Graeme McDowell came in with a 69 which left him at level par for the tournament.
World No.1 Luke Donald, though, had another frustrating day and the Englishman walked off with a three-over 74 for seven-over for the tournament, 21 strokes off the lead.
What remains to be seen now is whether McIlroy can avoid the kind of collapse that hit him at the Masters.
This time with an eight-stroke advantage the chances of that happening look highly unlikely as he closes in on succeeding fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell as US Open champion.
BETHESDA, June 18, 2011 (AFP) - The chase was on to reel in runaway leader Rory McIlroy in the third round of the US Open at Congressional Country Club here on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Ulsterman has blown the field apart in the first two days with rounds of 65 and 66 giving him the lowest first 36 holes in US Open history.
He stands at 11-under, five clear of second-placed Yang Yong-Eun of South Korea with Americans Robert Garrigus, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar as well as Spain's Sergio Garcia a further three strokes adrift.
McIlroy, seemingly pre-destined for golfing glory since he first burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old amateur at the 2007 Carnoustie British Open, said he intends to stay the course by continuing to be "aggressive" and "cocky".
"I just try and have a bit of an attitude," he explained.
His play so far has delighted the big crowds at this course west of Washington, frequented by US presidents and lawmakers, and left many of his rivals open-mounthed in admiration, evoking memories of the young Tiger Woods.
But one big question marks hangs over the young buck - will he collapse again as he did in the second round of the last year's British Open at St Andrews and at the final round of this years Masters at Augusta National.
On both occasions, he led the tournament only for his game to disintegrate with resulting 80s.
At his shoulder ready to pounce will be Yang, a tough and uncompromising 39-year-old who knows something about making comebacks.
Two years ago, he made golfing history by coming from two strokes behind to defeat Tiger Woods for the PGA Championship title at Hazeltine in Minnesota.
It was the first time in 15 attempts that Woods had failed to win a major title when leading or tied for the lead entering the final round.
In so doing, Yang became the first Asian man to win a major title, earning him instant celebrity throughout the continent.
He also produced a remarkable comeback, he points out, last year to win the Korea Open after starting the third round 10 strokes adrift of third round leader Noh Seung-Yul, who also made the cut here at even par.
"Anything can happen in golf, really," was his blunt assessment of the challange facing him at the weekend.
For those more distant from the lead, many appear already to have consigned themselves to playing for second place.
But as in life, in golf, hope springs eternal as world No.2 Lee Westwood intimated.
"I think that's the attitude I'm going to go with over the next couple of days -- to try and get past whoever is in the second spot -- and we'll see what Rory does," the Englishman said. "He's had leads before."
With 72 players into the weekend and the final pairing of McIlroy and Yang not due off before 3:50 pm local time (1950 GMT) due to the end of the second round being held over until Saturday morning, organizers were facing a race against the clock to have the round completed by sunset.
BETHESDA, June 19, 2011 (AFP) - Pairings for Sunday's final round of the 111th US Open golf championship at Congressional Country Club (all times local, 4 behind GMT):
9:30 a.m. - Brad Benjamin (USA), Wes Hefferman (CAN)
9:40 - Todd Hamilton (USA), Alexandre Rocha (BRA)
9:50 - Justin Hicks (USA), JJ Henry (USA)
10:00 - Bae Sang-Moon (KOR), Anthony Kim (USA)
10:10 - Christo Greyling (RSA), Phil Mickelson (USA)
10:20 - Scott Piercy (USA), Charley Hoffman (USA)
10:30 - Kenichi Kuboya (JPN), Kevin Streelman (USA)
10:40 - Luke Donald (ENG), Bubba Watson (USA)
10:50 - Marcel Siem (GER), Matteo Manassero (ITA)
11:00 - Adam Hadwin (CAN), Edoardo Molinari (ITA)
11:10 - Brian Gay (USA), Ryo Ishikawa (JPN)
11:20 - Jeff Overton (USA), Michael Putnam (USA)
11:30 - Lucas Glover (USA), Robert Rock (ENG)
11:40 - Bud Cauley (USA), Gary Woodland (USA)
11:50 - Chez Reavie (USA), Retief Goosen (RSA)
12:00 p.m. - Gregory Havret (FRA), Robert Karlsson (SWE)
12:10 - Alexander Noren (SWE), Johan Edfors (SWE)
12:20 - Padraig Harrington (IRL), Martin Kaymer (GER)
12:30 - Kang Sung-Hoon (KOR), Noh Seung-Yul (KOR)
12:40 - Rory Sabbatini (RSA), Dustin Johnson (USA)
12:50 - Ryan Palmer (USA), John Senden (AUS)
1:00 - Charl Schwartzel (RSA), Marc Leishman (AUS)
1:10 - Kim Do-Hoon (KOR), Bill Haas (USA)
1:20 - Alvaro Quiros (ESP), Russell Henley (USA)
1:30 - Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Steve Stricker (USA)
1:40 - Graeme McDowell (NIR), Harrison Frazar (USA)
1:50 - Zach Johnson (USA), Brandt Snedeker (USA)
2:00 - Patrick Cantlay (USA), Peter Hanson (SWE)
2:10 - Kevin Chappell (USA), Webb Simpson (USA)
2:20 - Heath Slocum (USA), Davis Love (USA)
2:30 - Brandt Jobe (USA), Henrik Stenson (SWE)
2:40 - Bo Van Pelt (USA), Kim Kyung-Tae (KOR)
2:50 - Sergio Garcia (ESP), Matt Kuchar (USA)
3:00 - Fredrik Jacobson (SWE), Robert Garrigus (USA)
3:10 - Lee Westwood (ENG), Jason Day (AUS)
3:20 - Yang Yong-Eun (KOR), Rory McIlroy (NIR)
BETHESDA, June 18, 2011 (AFP) - Complete scores after Saturday's third round of the 111th US Open golf championship at par-71 Congressional Country Club:
199 - Rory McIlroy (NIR) 65-66-68
207 - Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 68-69-70
208 - Jason Day (AUS) 71-72-65, Lee Westwood (ENG) 75-68-65, Robert Garrigus (USA) 70-70-68
209 - Fredrik Jacobson (SWE) 74-69-66, Matt Kuchar (USA) 72-68-69, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 69-71-69
210 - Kim Kyung-Tae (KOR) 69-72-69
211 - Bo Van Pelt (USA) 76-67-68, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70-72-69, Brandt Jobe (USA) 71-70-70, Davis Love (USA) 70-71-70, Heath Slocum (USA) 71-70-70
212 - Webb Simpson (USA) 75-71-66, Kevin Chappell (USA) 76-67-69, Peter Hanson (SWE) 72-71-69, Patrick Cantlay (USA) 75-67-70, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 70-70-72, Zach Johnson (USA) 71-69-72
213 - Harrison Frazar (USA) 72-73-68, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 70-74-69, Steve Stricker (USA) 75-69-69, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 69-73-71, Russell Henley (USA) 73-69-71, Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 70-71-72
214 - Bill Haas (USA) 73-73-68, Kim Do-Hoon (KOR) 73-71-70, Marc Leishman (AUS) 73-69-72, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 68-74-72, John Senden (AUS) 70-72-72, Ryan Palmer (USA) 69-72-73
215 - Dustin Johnson (USA) 75-71-69, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 72-73-70, Noh Seung-Yul (KOR) 72-70-73
216 - Kang Sung-Hoon (KOR) 74-72-70, Martin Kaymer (GER) 74-70-72, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 71-73-72, Johan Edfors (SWE) 70-72-74, Alexander Noren (SWE) 75-67-74
217 - Robert Karlsson (SWE) 79-67-71, Gregory Havret (FRA) 77-69-71, Retief Goosen (RSA) 73-73-71, Chez Reavie (USA) 70-75-72, Gary Woodland (USA) 73-71-73, Bud Cauley (USA) 71-72-74, Robert Rock (ENG) 70-71-76
218 - Lucas Glover (USA) 76-69-73, Michael Putnam (USA) 74-71-73, Jeff Overton (USA) 72-72-74, Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 74-70-74, Brian Gay (USA) 73-71-74, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 74-70-74
219 - Adam Hadwin (CAN) 75-71-73, Matteo Manassero (ITA) 74-72-73, Marcel Siem (GER) 79-66-74
220 - Bubba Watson (USA) 71-75-74, Luke Donald (ENG) 74-72-74, Kevin Streelman (USA) 73-73-74, Kenichi Kuboya (JPN) 73-73-74, Charley Hoffman (USA) 71-74-75, Scott Piercy (USA) 73-71-76, Phil Mickelson (USA) 74-69-77
221 - Christo Greyling (RSA) 72-74-75, Anthony Kim (USA) 74-72-75, Bae Sang-Moon (KOR) 75-71-75, J.J. Henry (USA) 72-73-76, Justin Hicks (USA) 74-71-76, Alexandre Rocha (BRA) 69-76-76
222 - Todd Hamilton (USA) 73-72-77
225 - Wes Heffernan (CAN) 75-71-79, Brad Benjamin (USA) 72-73-80