5 things: McIlroy extends lead to four at Augusta

Rory McIlroy watches his approach shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2011 Masters.

Rory McIlroy watches his approach shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2011 Masters.

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The Masters (Rd. 3)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Five things you need to know from the third round at Augusta National:

1.) Breathing room: Rory McIlroy will enter the final round of the Masters with a four-shot lead, the largest at the Masters since Tiger Woods was ahead by nine in 1997. Woods went on to win by 12, and the rest is history. McIlroy has four players lurking four shots back – 2009 Masters winner Angel Cabrera, Charl Schwartzel, K.J. Choi and Jason Day.

McIlroy, 21, shot a 2-under 70 Saturday, punctuated by a 33-foot putt at the 17th hole that suddenly gave him plenty of breathing room.

He’s at 12-under 204 and has held at least a share of the lead each day.

“It’s a great position to be in,” McIlroy said. “I stayed really patient out there today. I’m really happy with the way I stuck to my game plan and it paid off.”

Day (Australia) and Choi (Korea) are trying to become the first players from their home countries to win the Masters.

2.) Missed opportunities: Tiger Woods’ chances at a fifth green jacket ended with a Saturday 74 that had Woods using expletives and screaming at himself. He missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 18, a 2-footer on the 11th hole and a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 15.

“I just made nothing,” said Woods, who got into contention with a second-round 66. “I hit so many putts early that looked like they were going to go in and they didn’t go in.”

Woods, who started the third round just three shots behind McIlroy, is now seven shots back.

3.) Fan favorites fall: The pairing of Rickie Fowler and Fred Couples had the potential to energize Augusta National’s crowds. The two fan favorites started the third round five shots behind Rory McIlroy, but struggled Saturday.

Fowler was 2 under after five holes, but played Nos. 6-12 in 6 over and shot 76. Couples received roars for back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, but his 72 left him seven shots back of McIlroy.

Couples’ biggest mistake came on the par-5 eighth, where an overly-aggressive shot turned into double bogey.

“I tried to hit some low, hooking wood up there, and I can barely hit a straight wood shot, let alone try that,” Couples said. “I pulled it into the junk and then it just was a comedy of errors from there.”

4.) Cabrera lurking: Angel Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion, put himself in position to win another green jacket with a 5-under 67. At 8-under 208 through 54 holes, he’ll play with McIlroy in Sunday’s final group.

Cabrera reportedly told Nick Faldo Tuesday evening at the Masters’ Champions Dinner that his game was not in very good shape. Having taken four months off from August-January to rest a left wrist hampered by tendinitis, he arrived to Augusta showing little form, having missed the cut in Houston last week. His lone positive result in six events this season: a tie for seventh at the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open last month, when a majority of the world’s top players were in Miami competing at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

But he has kept plugging along, working diligently on his game with mentor Charlie Epps and trying his best to to shake off the rust.

“I didn’t play for about four months, so I’m just getting my groove,” he said. “I’m just practicing a lot.”

5.) Amateur representation: Hideki Matsuyama, the lone amateur to make the Masters’ 36-hole cut, continued to impress. His 68 Saturday was one off the day’s low round, and moved him from the cut line into a tie for 18th. His final birdie came on a near-ace on the 16th. Matsuyama, 19, is the first Asian Amateur champion to make the Masters cut.

“I'm very happy that I was able to make the cut yesterday and I was able to play really well today,” he said through a translator.

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