|McIlroy said that he was taking nothing for granted despite a solid third round in Georgia [GALLO/GETTY]
Rory McIlroy opened a commanding four-shot lead after an absorbing third round as his main challengers fell back at the Masters.
Tipped to be a future world number one, the 21-year-old showed poise well beyond his age as he navigated around an increasingly treacherous Augusta National with a solid two-under-par 70 that left him poised to earn the winner's green jacket.
"It feels good but I'm not getting ahead of myself. I know how leads can dwindle away very quickly," Northern Irishman McIlroy said on Saturday.
"I have to go out there tomorrow, not take anything for granted and go out and play as hard as I've played the last three days. If I can do that, hopefully things will go my way."
The Briton ended the day in total control at 12-under-par 204, four ahead of a group of four players, including 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera.
The Argentine stormed up the leaderboard with a 67, equalling the day's best round, to finish level with South African Charl Schwartzel (68), South Korean K.J. Choi (71) and Jason Day of Australia (72).
Day, who played with McIlroy for a third successive round, briefly held the outright lead before fading on the back nine.
"I didn't play myself out of the tournament today," Day said.
"I certainly could have played better but I'm very happy where I am. I just have to try and roll in some putts tomorrow."
|Woods fell seven shots off the lead on the third day after a promising first two rounds [GALLO/GETTY]
Tiger Woods also slipped back through the field after starting the day tied for third.
The American shot a 74 to finish at five under, seven strokes behind the man widely regarded as his successor as the game's next great player.
"I'm in a position where I've just got to go out there and play a good round and see what happens," Woods said.
McIlroy had recorded three top-three finishes in his past five majors but was on the verge of his first major title after learning from the mistakes of his previous near misses.
Last year, he threw away his chances of winning the British Open when he followed up his opening round of 63 at St Andrews with an 80 but there was no repeat on Saturday as he expertly managed his way around the course on a glorious spring day.
The last time anyone held a bigger lead heading into the last day of the Masters was in 1997 when Woods led by nine on the way to winning the first of his four green jackets.
"This is a great position to be in. I'm looking forward to the challenge," McIlroy said.
McIlroy went through his first nine holes in level-par 36 and then broke free of the pack rounding Amen Corner.
He made three birdies between the 13th and 17th, the last with a
30-foot putt from the edge of the green, leaving a trail of former major winners in his wake.
"The young kids are playing very well," said Cabrera, who is almost twice as old as McIlroy.
Day, 23, birdied three of the first five holes to overtake McIlroy and briefly lead the tournament but was unable to sustain his challenge though he hadn't given up hope of winning.
"Obviously I think Rory is going to be a little nervous tomorrow," Day said.
"But the way he's hitting it, he's going to be very, very tough to catch. We need to work at it and hopefully one of us can catch him."
Woods, bidding for a 15th major title, squandered his chances of finishing closer to McIlroy after a wretched day on the greens, taking 33 putts.
The defending champion, American Phil Mickelson, also lost ground, shooting 71 to end the day tied for 18th at three under after making several unscheduled excursions into the pine trees.
Australia's Adam Scott shot 67 to reach seven under, level with Britain's Luke Donald (69), while American Bo Van Pelt (68) finished at six under, one ahead of Woods, Australian Geoff Ogilvy (73), Briton Ross Fisher (71) and Americans Bubba Watson (67) and Fred Couples (72).