Rory McIlroy is 18 holes away from history.
Six strokes ahead of the competition and with an all-time major scoring record hanging in the offing, McIlroy is essentially playing against himself Sunday at the Open Championship.
He's gone through the first three rounds with a near-flawless 16-under score, matching his pairing 66s during the week with a 68 Saturday to put the Claret Jug's resting place mostly out of question.
Rickie Fowler sits six strokes back after three straight rounds in the 60s, but we should be headed to the Rory Show. Barring an all-time terrible collapse—which, I guess, can't be counted out given McIlroy's history—there's really not much suspense heading into Sunday. Play 18, don't screw it up and come away with one of the more impressive feats in recent golf history.
McIlroy has been here before. His 2011 U.S. Open win already rests in the record books. His 2012 PGA Championship does the same. McIlroy seems to have this keen sense of when a tournament is for the taking—and by "for the taking" I mean "for the absolute destroying of all society around him."
McIlroy's two major championship wins were by a combined 16 strokes. The non-wins are filled with horrifying near-misses and disappointment, but there may be no better front-runner in sports at the moment. Whether the Northern Irishman wins or loses, he does it in style.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at our live updating scoreboard and a short breakdown of what to expect Sunday at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.
Day 4 Storylines
Rory Won't Blow This...Will He?
Waiting for McIlroy to begin his round is a weird feeling. While the golf world acknowledges he's the most talented player on the planet, we've not reached a Tiger-esque point of comfort. His six-stroke lead is cavernous, but it does not seem insurmountable. Part of the joy and pain of watching McIlroy grow as a player has been seeing the wild fluctuations in results.
We're long past the point that McIlroy's reputation can survive a Sunday collapse.
At 16 under and with Royal Liverpool finally starting to show its teeth, McIlroy has a cushion. Three or four over probably still puts him in a good position to win, though it's still to be seen if this course can challenge him in the slightest. Through three rounds McIlroy has littered his scorecard with red numbers, including a beautiful eagle-bogey-eagle stretch to end his Saturday.
“I think whenever you have such a big lead, you really can't think about anyone else but yourself,” McIlroy told reporters. “You have to think about how you're going to control your emotions. How you're going to control whatever thoughts you have, trying to stay completely in the present and focus on what you need to do.”
While impressive all around, McIlroy has built his lead on a surprising level of steadiness. He's bogeyed just four times through three rounds, and three of those came Saturday. He has been able to power through with towering drives—McIlroy is averaging a tournament-high 329.3 yards per drive—and a surprisingly sterling short game.
Saturday was saved for McIlroy by his putter. The two eagles in his last three holes served as the only reason he was able to stay under par for the round. If we believe momentum can be carried over in a golf tournament from day to day, that's probably the only thing going against McIlroy. His history of scary-high rounds only heightens the level of intrigue heading into the final 18 holes.
All signs point to him winning with ease. But until those rounds in the high 70s become a thing of the past, McIlroy will always enter the final round at a major with skepticism surrounding him.
Can Anyone Make a Late Charge?
Giving McIlroy a meaningful run necessitates two things, one being a poor round from someone who has owned this course for 54 holes. The second, of course, being actually playing well yourself.
Realistically, there are only four players who can challenge McIlroy. Victor Dubuisson, who is in fifth place at eight strokes behind, is where the line starts to get a little wonky. We're only including Dubuisson for the sake of it's theoretically possible he can go 68 against a 76 from McIlroy and turn the whole thing into a playoff.
Again, when a player has a six-stroke lead over the entire field it's kind of hard to conjure up much intrigue.
Fowler, sitting at 10 under, has the best shot, but the poor kid seems destined for a life of bridesmaidsmanship in 2014. He finished tied for fifth at the Masters and tied for second at the U.S. Open, and though he remains among the most popular, promising young golfers in the world, his PGA Tour wins column still reads "one."
Fowler has made a career out of being in contention without actually getting over the hump.
The same can be said for Sergio Garcia, who sits alongside Dustin Johnson at nine under.
Garcia has in many ways had a career that resembles the aforementioned younger generation. He was supposed to be the heir apparent to Tiger Woods' throne before Woods knew his throne was in question. At age 34 and a decade-and-a-half removed from bursting on the scene at the 1999 PGA Championship, he's now the veteran who will always wonder what could have been.
Garcia has entered the strata similar to the one in which Fowler currently resides. At major championships, it's almost a surprise if he's not on the leaderboard at some point during the week. There is always a shoe that drops once he's on the leaderboard—he's actually only finished in the top 10 three times since 2011—but the Spaniard always flashes his talent in one way or another.
Between Johnson, Garcia and Fowler, one of that trio will make a run. Odds are it won't be enough in a tournament that has all but been decided in its first three days.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.