In giving himself a chance to become the youngest Masters champion since Tiger Woods, McIlroy has stolen a page right out of the 14-time major champion's playbook: seizing the lead, building on it, then holding the rest of the field at arm's length with sensible, if unspectacular, golf. It might not have always been riveting theater, but it was enough to give him a shot at his first major title.
Bogey: Lost momentum
The Masters rolled into the weekend ripe with possibilities. Tiger. Rickie. Freddie. But between those players' missteps and McIlroy's steely play, Saturday had more of the feel of a U.S. Open-like grind, devoid of the usual Masters electricity. Of course, not everyone's complaining. McIlroy thought it worked out just fine.
The game has been looking for another star to latch onto, and it could do a lot worse than McIlroy, an affable, engaging young player who seems to get it, whatever "it" exactly is. He's still got plenty of work in front of him on Sunday. But like with Woods 14 years earlier at Augusta, his final round here could be the dawn of a new era.
Bogey: Tiger Woods
We should know by now that one encouraging round doesn't mean Woods has cured all that ails him. But what's noteworthy about Saturday is that his ball-striking was actually crisp enough to keep him near the top of the leader board. His putting was another story, lipping out a par attempt on the first hole and never regaining his touch the rest of the afternoon. His 74 broke a streak of 16 consecutive rounds of par or better, and almost assuredly cost him a shot at a fifth green jacket.
Birdie: Angel Cabrera
El Pato is back! Earlier in the week, the two-time major champion told Golf Digest's Guy Yocom that part of his struggles of late can be attributed to his needing 10 dental implants, all of which has understandably cut into his enjoyment of Argentine barbecue. Nonetheless, Cabrera has been back on form this week, with his Saturday 67 putting him in the final pairing with Rory McIlroy. He might not be in much of a mood to eat Sunday night. But he might be ready to down another victory beverage.
Bogey: American golf
These are not heady days for the red, white, and blue, especially when considering the assortment of other flags above it on the leader board this week. Depressing stat time: dating back to the 2003 PGA Championship, only one winner, 29-year-old Lucas Glover at the 2009 U.S. Open, was an American in his 20s.
Birdie: Jeff Knox
The Augusta National member, a standout amateur, was called into service to play as a marker alongside Ernie Els in the day's first pairing. Knox hardly seemed fazed, striping his first drive down the opening fairway, and patching together a respectable five-over 77. It wasn't quite the course-record 61 Knox has from the member's tees here. But then, he didn't have to play that round alongside a three-time major champion.
Bogey: Sean Foley
Regardless of how Tiger Woods fares on Sunday, it's apparent he is making some headway in revamping his swing with his new instructor. But as long as Woods continues to struggle with his putting, as he did for most of Saturday, it is Foley who is still likely to receive the brunt of the criticism.
Birdie: Adam Scott
Before there was McIlroy, there was Scott, the dashing Aussie with a swing that was the envy of pretty much every player on tour. Scott's time hasn't exactly passed -- he's only 30, after all -- but his chronic underperformance in majors fed the theory his game couldn't hold up on the biggest stages. Five shots behind McIlroy after a third-round 67, he now has his best chance to prove that theory wrong.