Rory McIlroy showed no early signs of faltering as he set out with a six-stroke lead in the final round of the British Open at Royal Liverpool on Sunday
Opting to hit a driver off the first tee, he was rewarded with a birdie that eased him out to 17 under for the tournament and seven clear of the field.
Up ahead Sergio Garcia also birdied the first to join Rickie Fowler, playing with McIlroy, at 10 under before the American birdied the second. Both players then got to 11 under as the lead was cut back to six shots.
Swede Robert Karlsson had four early birdies to get to 10 under, level with Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, while Australia's Marc Leishman was at nine under after eight holes thanks to four birdies.
World number one Adam Scott was also at nine under after six holes, still 11 adrift of the lead at that stage.
McIlroy was looking to put him up alongside Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in major golf history.
Those two legends of the sport are the only players to date to have won three out of the four major titles by the time they were 25. McIlroy, if he wins would match them..
All the signs were at green for the popular Irishman as Saturday's torrential downpours gave way to sunshine and perfect playing conditions at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
No-one in the long history of the Open Championship dating back to 1860 has let slip a six-stroke lead in the tournament's final round.
McIlroy though knows what it feels like to experience heartbreak in the final round of a major, having squandered a four-stroke lead on the final day of the 2011 Masters.
But just a few months after that he won the US Open at Congressional by eight strokes and the following year he took the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by an identical margin.
If he does the same thing again on Sunday and wins by eight he would match Woods who took the first of his three Open titles at St Andrews in 2000 by that margin when he was in his prime.
Proof of the way things have changed in golf since then, Woods had already completed his final round of 75 more that an hour before McIlroy was due to tee off.
The 38-year-old American was set to finish near the bottom of the 72-strong field that made it through to the weekend
McIlroy believes that the experience he has already accumulated in his young career could prove to be crucial throughout Sunday's play.
“I've been in this position before and I've been able to convert and I've been able to get the job done. I'm comfortable with the position I am in, just really comfortable with my golf game,” he said.
Adding to the comfort zone is the fact that he will go out in the final pairing with close friend Fowler, another 25-year-old who shot a 68 on Saturday to end the day second best, six strokes back.
The American at one stage in the third round pulled level with McIlroy before he faded down the back nine and McIlroy finished with eagles at the 16th and 18th.
Mission impossible many would say for Fowler, but he believes there is an outside chance he could still win what would be his first major title.
“We're good buddies and at the same time we both want to beat up on each other as bad as possible,” he said.
Of the leading six golfers after three rounds, only McIlroy has won a major and the betting was that that would not change by the end of the day. – AFP