Rory McIlroy opens 6-shot lead

— -- HOYLAKE, England -- His once-comfortable lead gone, Rory McIlroy could have flinched.

Instead, he blew everyone away.

With a stunning display down the stretch, including a pair of eagles, McIlroy put a stranglehold on his third major championship by shooting a 4-under 68 Saturday, sending him to the final round of the British Open with a daunting six-shot edge.

McIlroy came into the day up by four after back-to-back 66s, only to start slowly and find himself tied for the top spot when Rickie Fowler birdied seven of the first 12 holes.

But, in a lightning-quick turnaround, McIlroy rolled in a 35-foot birdie at the 14th and an eagle at the 16th. Fowler bogeyed both holes, a five-shot swing in just under an hour.

When McIlroy made another eagle at the 18th after what he called "my two best shots of the day," he pushed his score to 16-under 200 and seized the largest 54-hole Open lead since Tiger Woods was six strokes ahead at St. Andrews in 2000.

No one has ever blown such a big advantage on the final day of golf's oldest major championship.

"I felt Rickie close to me. I was able to turn it on when I needed to," McIlroy said. "Now, it's about trying to control yourself, control your emotions, go out and play a good, solid round of golf."

That should be good enough to push him another step closer to the career Grand Slam at the tender age of 25. Boy Wonder already captured the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship, both in eight-shot runaways.

This is looking very much like another blowout.

"I would be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam," McIlroy said. "Obviously, it would be nice going to Augusta next year trying to complete that (at the Masters). I've got a lot to play for tomorrow. It's a huge day for me."

Fowler settled for a 68 and was at 206. Sergio Garcia shot 69 and was another shot back at 207.

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

The R&A went with an unprecedented two-tee start, hoping to get the round completed while under the threat of severe thunderstorms. The bad weather never materialized. There were a few brief showers, but the course along the Irish Sea was no match for the world's best players -- the greens softened by the smattering of rain, nary a stiff breeze to put some bite into Royal Liverpool.

"I think everyone was getting ready for a hurricane," said Keegan Bradley, who shot a 3-under 69. "But it's as nice as we could imagine."

There were plenty of good scores to be had. France's Victor Dubuisson shot 68 and was in the clubhouse at 8-under 208. Italians Edoardo Molinari (209) and Matteo Manassero (210) also shot 68.

Darren Clarke's 67 included an amazing stretch of six birdies in seven holes and was better than any of his rounds when he won the Open at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Fowler has played well in the majors this year, beginning with a fifth-place showing at the Masters and continued with a runner-up showing behind runaway winner Martin Kaymer in the U.S. Open last month.

Garcia, still seeking his first major as well, squandered several prime chances to take his score even lower -- most notably, missing a 3-foot birdie try at No. 12.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson was hoping to make a big push after shooting 70 on Friday. But Lefty made three bogeys on the front side and, even with a rally after the turn, still managed just a 71 that left him too far back.

He knew he should have done better.

"It's as easy as I have seen the course play," he said.

Coming off one of the worst Open rounds of his pro career, Woods teed off in the final group at No. 10, still clinging to the hope of mounting a Paul Lawrie-like comeback.

No chance. After birdies at his first two holes, Woods made a double bogey at the second -- his 11th hole of the day -- and a triple bogey at the seventh.

Clearly, Woods is nowhere close to being able to contend for his 15th major title in just his second tournament since coming back from back surgery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.