McIlroy builds 6-shot lead at British Open

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McIlroy builds 6-shot lead at British Open
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts after a putt on the 17th hole during the final round of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot off the 14th tee during the final round of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland gestures after putting on the 10th green during the final round of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up on the 5th green during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks down the 6th hole during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland gets a ruling on the 7th hole during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy retrieves his ball from the cup on the 3rd green during his third round, on day three of the 2014 British Open Golf Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Course in Hoylake, north west England on July 19, 2014. Rory McIlroy was struggling to hold on to his lead in a rain-hit third round of the British Open on Saturday. The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland began the day with a four-stroke lead over nearest challenger Dustin Johnson of the United States, but after just one hole that was cut in half. AFP PHOTO / PETER MUHLY (Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy (2nd R) of Northern Ireland and Dustin Johnson (R) of the United States talk as they walk off the first tee during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by David Cannon/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks accross the tee on the first hole during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by David Cannon/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Jordan Spieth of the United States walks with an umbrella during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Crowds shelter under umbrellas in the grandstand in bad weather conditions during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Dustin Johnson of the United States lines up during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Tiger Woods of the United States hits his tee shot on the first hole during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Sergio Garcia of Spain reacts on the 7th hole during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Tiger Woods of the United States lines up on the 16th green during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Justin Rose of England chats with caddie Mark Fulcher during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Groundstaff at work during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rickie Fowler of the United States tees off on the 4th hole during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Jimmy Walker of the United States looks on during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Tiger Woods of the United States removes his jacket on the 18th green during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
HOYLAKE, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks down the 5th hole with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald during the third round of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 19, 2014 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates playing a birdie on the 9th green during the final round of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
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By DOUG FERGUSON

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- Rory McIlroy looks as if he has just thrown a knockout punch at the British Open, and it was only Saturday.

When he rolled in a 10-foot eagle putt on the final hole for a 4-under 68, he straightened his back, stared defiantly at thousands of fans crammed into the horseshoe arena around the 18th green at Royal Liverpool and lightly pumped his fist.

He went from being tied for the lead to six shots ahead of Rickie Fowler in just over an hour.

And suddenly, the biggest challenge facing the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland was reminding himself that he had one more round left.

Digital Drive: Rory Runs Away

McIlroy can't afford to picture his name etched on the base of that silver claret jug. He can't think about what it will be like next April to drive down Magnolia Lane at Augusta National with a shot at becoming the sixth player to capture the career Grand Slam.

"I'm not taking anything for granted," McIlroy said.

He knows that from experience, good and bad. He blew a four-shot lead at the Masters in 2011 and shot 80 in the final round. He had an eight-shot lead at the U.S. Open two months later and set two scoring records to win by eight. And just two months ago, McIlroy came from seven shots behind to win by seven.

It looks like a lost cause for Fowler, Sergio Garcia and anyone else trying to chase down a guy who has won both his majors by eight shots. The six-shot lead was the largest at The Open since Tiger Woods led by six at St. Andrews in 2000.

Even so, McIlroy was doing his best to preach caution.

"A lot can happen," he said. "And I've been on the right side of it and I've been on the wrong side of it. You can't let yourself think forward. You've just got to completely stay in the moment, and that's what I'm going to try to do for all 18 holes tomorrow."

History is on his side.

No one has ever lost a six-shot lead in the 121 years that The Open has been contested over 72 holes. Boy Wonder would not seem to be a candidate.

"What you have with him is he's just so explosive," Jim Furyk said after a 71 left him 10 shots behind. "He won the U.S. Open by eight shots. He obviously doesn't have any issue as the front-runner, and has no issue trying to extend that lead, much like Tiger used to."

McIlroy was at 16-under 200.

"If I'm able to go out and get off to a good start, maybe I can put a little bit of pressure on him," Fowler said after a 68. "Because he's definitely in control of the golf tournament right now."

Fowler tried to do his part on a cloudy Saturday with occasional rain, but not nearly what the R&A expected when it went to a two-tee start of the first time in history. Fowler, who was six shots behind going into the third round, ran off three straight birdies to start the back nine and shared the lead when McIlroy made bogey on No. 12.

It all changed so quickly.

Fowler made a bogey on the 14th hole. McIlroy, playing in the group behind, drilled a 35-foot birdie putt that put his lead back to two shots.

"Rickie was just getting close to me," McIlroy said. "I could hear the cheers in front of me. I just wanted to get ahead. To hole a putt like that was huge."

And that's when he turned it on.

McIlroy blasted a drive on the par-5 16th hole and hit 4-iron from 252 yards over a pot bunker to the left side of the green and made a 15-foot eagle putt. That restored his lead to five shots, for Fowler had driven into a pot bunker and made a bogey.

Fowler recovered with a superb shot out of the pot bunker on the 18th to tap-in range for birdie. That put the American into the final group for the second straight major, both times a long way out of the lead. He trailed Martin Kaymer by five shots going into the last day of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

Fowler didn't get closer than four shots from Kaymer in the final round.

Garcia, who played in final group with Woods at Royal Liverpool in 2006, certainly had his chances. He was only three shots behind at the turn until missing a short birdie putt on No. 12 and failing to convert so many other chances. Garcia had a 69 and was seven shots behind, along with Dustin Johnson (71).

"It's going to be difficult," Garcia said. "But we'll give it a shot."

This was Rory's show, just like it was at Congressional, just like it was at Kiawah Island when he won the 2012 PGA Championship.

And yet the biggest crowd belonged to Woods, the sport's biggest star who is playing his first major since back surgery four months ago. Woods narrowly made the cut on Friday, opened with two straight birdies and that was about all the excitement. He made another double bogey, another triple bogey and shot 73.

Woods was 19 shots out of the lead.

The biggest challenge for McIlroy might be to avoid looking ahead. It was hard. Asked what it would mean to be one major away from a Grand Slam at 25, McIlroy said, "It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year."

"I'd be in pretty illustrious company," he said.

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