Brilliant McIlroy marches towards first major title

Ulsterman rewrites record books while Westwood finally comes through in the chasing pack
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For Rory McIlroy the records keep on tumbling as he moved eight shots clear here at the US Open last night. At 14-under, the remarkable young Ulsterman posted the lowest third-round total in 115 years of the game's toughest major.

His 68 was an exhibition of front-running golf as he pulled further away from the Korean Y E Yang. The 22-year-old barely faltered in four hours that make him a huge favourite to become the youngest winner of the US Open in 88 years.

If McIlroy was to fail, he would become the player who conceded the largest 54-hole lead in major history. On everything witnessed here so far, such a scenario must be rated on the unlikely side of implausible.

Yet Lee Westwood was prepared to sound a note of caution. "Big leads are sometimes hard to play with," said the world No 2, who shot a 65 to stand in third on five-under. "Let's see what happens."

Few are expecting McIlroy to implode as he did at The Masters two months ago. That final-round 80 now seems such a distant memory. America is certainly behind his seemingly inexorable march. The Washington galleries chanted his name, as the nation's networks christened him the new Tiger Woods. The comparisons with the former world No 1's 15-stroke win at Pebble Beach in 2000 were as inevitable as they were justified.

His friends were hardly seeking to douse the hype. Graeme McDowell, his fellow Ulsterman who happens to be the defending champion, was particularly effusive. "He may be hands down the best player I've ever seen hit a golf ball," said McDowell, on level par after a 69. "He's a phenomenon. Obviously we were disappointed for him at Augusta. But what he's doing this week has been an accident waiting to happen. He's been threatening to do this for many, many years. And it's great to see him out there fulfilling his potential."