BETHESDA, Md. — Rory McIlroy set another record at the U.S. Open on Saturday, making a birdie on the 14th hole to become the first player in the history of the tournament to reach 14-under par.
Showing no signs of weakening in the quest for his first major, McIlroy had a nine-shot lead on Lee Westwood and Jason Day with three holes left in a third round that felt more like a regular day on tour than the toughest test in golf.
Westwood and Day each shot 6-under 65 to get to 5-under for the tournament, tied with Robert Garrigus and Y.E. Yang, who were still on the course. Fredrik Jacobson was another shot behind after a 66 that left him at 4-under, tied with Matt Kuchar.
Given the soft conditions at Congressional, they couldn't be blamed for feeling a glimmer of hope, even though McIlroy wasn't showing any sign of fading.
"A big lead is sometimes difficult to play with," Westwood said. "You just have to play your own game and think of a score at the beginning of the day. For me, the score was 65."
After a bogey on No. 4, Westwood moved up the leaderboard with five birdies over the next 11 holes, then capped his day with a 20-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 16th. This marked his lowest score in 53 rounds at the majors.
"When you go in 12 behind somebody, you can play as well as you'd like to play but it's still going to be a matter of the leader coming back to you," Westwood said. "No use thinking about what Rory's doing. But I've played with big leads in the past. It's not easy. We'll see what happens."
McIlroy, trying to close the deal after letting a four-shot lead at the Masters slip on the final day, did make a bogey on No. 10 after hitting his tee shot on the par-3 into a back bunker. But he came back on No. 11, hitting an approach shot from the rough to 18 feet, then sinking the putt and fist pumping as he walked to grab the ball from the hole.
That put him back at 13-under par, a number that had never been reached in U.S. Open history until he got there after the 17th hole on Friday. On 14, he hit his approach to six feet and made that. With three holes left, he was at 3-under for the day and very much in the mix to break the 54-hole scoring record of 200, set by Jim Furyk in 2003.
The biggest lead after 54 holes is 10, by Tiger Woods, who won by 15 at Pebble Beach in 2000.
McIlroy wasn't nearly as locked in early Saturday as he was during the first two rounds, when he set the 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record at 11-under 131. He missed fairways on 1, 3, 8 and 9 on the front side and pushed his approach into a greenside bunker on No. 4. But he made par or better on all those holes and his lead — six shots at the beginning of the day — never shrank.
The tone was set early, when Webb Simpson shot 5-under 66 to move to 1-under.
"The golf course is pretty soft. The greens are soft," said Simpson, who made seven birdies. "I got a couple good lies in the rough today that I probably didn't deserve. I think you'll see some pretty good scores like mine, and some pretty high scores, too."
Day was among those with the good scores. The 23-year-old, who finished second at the Masters, didn't make a bogey and finished the day with a birdie on No. 18.
He scoffed at the idea that everyone but McIlroy was playing for second.
"I always want to try to win," Day said. "And, you know, playing for second place, I guess you're playing for first loser. I went out there and I just said, 'Look, I've got to put up at least a decent score today to actually have a shot.'"
The USGA prides itself on setting up the toughest courses in golf. But Congressional hasn't lived up to that reputation, hit by hot weather last week and rain this week that softened the greens.
All the players knew it, even the ones who weren't taking advantage.
"The rough isn't quite as gnarly as at some other U.S. Opens," world No. 1 Luke Donald said after shooting 3-over 74. "It has a different feel. It almost feels like the Firestone or something. But it's still tough out there. Some tough pins and you've got to play well to shoot a good score."
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