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Fowler tried to do his part on a cloudy Saturday with occasional rain, but not nearly what the R&A expected when it went to a two-tee start of the first time in history. Fowler, who was six shots behind going into the third round, ran off three straight birdies to start the back nine and shared the lead when McIlroy made bogey on No. 12.

It all changed so quickly.

Fowler made a bogey on the 14th hole. McIlroy, playing in the group behind, drilled a 35-foot birdie putt that put his lead back to two shots.

Rickie was just getting close to me,” McIlroy said. “I could hear the cheers in front of me. I just wanted to get ahead. To hole a putt like that was huge.”

And that’s when he turned it on.

McIlroy blasted a drive on the par-5 16th hole and hit 4-iron from 252 yards over a pot bunker to the left side of the green and made a 15-foot eagle putt. That restored his lead to five shots, for Fowler had driven into a pot bunker and made a bogey.

Fowler recovered with a superb shot out of the pot bunker on the 18th to tap-in range for birdie. That put the American into the final group for the second straight major, both times a long way out of the lead. He trailed Martin Kaymer by five shots going into the last day of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

Fowler didn’t get closer than four shots from Kaymer in the final round.

Garcia, who played in final group with Woods at Royal Liverpool in 2006, certainly had his chances. He was only three shots behind at the turn until missing a short birdie putt on No. 12 and failing to convert so many other chances. Garcia had a 69 and was seven shots behind, along with Dustin Johnson (71).

“It’s going to be difficult,” Garcia said. “But we’ll give it a shot.”

This was Rory’s show, just like it was at Congressional, just like it was at Kiawah Island when he won the 2012 PGA Championship.

And yet the biggest crowd belonged to Woods, the sport’s biggest star who is playing his first major since back surgery four months ago. Woods narrowly made the cut on Friday, opened with two straight birdies and that was about all the excitement. He made another double bogey, another triple bogey and shot 73.

Woods was 19 shots out of the lead.

The biggest challenge for McIlroy might be to avoid looking ahead. It was hard. Asked what it would mean to be one major away from a Grand Slam at 25, McIlroy said, “It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year.”

“I’d be in pretty illustrious company,” he said.