Rory McIlroy was steady rather than spectacular as he extended his lead to two strokes after the third round at the US$6 million Honda Classic in south Florida on Saturday.
McIlroy missed only one green on the water-lined back nine as he compiled a one-under-par 69 in moderately breezy conditions at the PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.
“I thought 69 in the conditions was a pretty good score,” the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland told Golf Channel.
“You can’t really get away with anything [on this golf course]. You really have to be in control with your ball and for the most part this week I have been,” he added.
Two-time majors champion McIlroy, whose gallery included his fiancee, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, posted a 12-under 198 total.
American Russell Henley (68), aided by an unlikely eagle at the par-four 14th, moved into second place on 10-under, with Scotsman Russell Knox (68) alone in third position on nine-under.
The US’ Tiger Woods had his best round of the year, a 65, to move within seven strokes.
Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge started the day one stroke behind the lead, but finished it eight adrift of the top after an error-strewn 76.
Henley recorded his eagle with a wedge from 150 yards. The American’s ball stayed in the air for almost six seconds, landed a couple of inches beyond the cup and found the hole on the first bounce.
“It felt like a really great swing,” Henley said. “It was a pretty cool feeling.”
Henley produced an encore when he rammed home a 50-foot putt from the fringe at the par-three 17th.
His ball was motoring at speed when it hit the back of the hole, jumped a couple of inches in the air and dropped in.
“I hit it a little too hard, but it felt really good coming off the clubface,” he said.
Henley, 24, who has won once on the PGA Tour, knows he likely needs a hot final round to catch McIlroy, who has won the past three times when he has held the 54-hole lead.
McIlroy’s advantage could have been larger, because birdie putts at the final two holes shaved the cup without dropping.
“I’m comfortable playing with the lead,” said McIlroy, the 2012 champion.
“If you’re playing with the lead, you’ve got to let the guys come to you. It’s going to make the job of the other guys very difficult if you’re not making mistakes,” the Northern Irishman added.
Woods, who made the cut on the number, took advantage of his early tee time to equal the best round of the day.
“Yesterday, I didn’t hit the ball very well. Today, I struck the ball well and made some putts [but] I missed my share as well. I just had a good feel [on the greens],” the American said.