Rory McIlroy left the door invitingly ajar for a charging pack led by Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia before slamming it shut with a dazzling finish to lead the Open by six strokes with one round left.
The Northern Irishman began the day four shots clear of Dustin Johnson, was reeled in by inspired American Fowler after 12 holes, but magnificent eagles at the 16th and 18th saw him disappear over the horizon with a 16-under-par total of 200 at a rain-soaked Royal Liverpool course.
200 Rory McIlroy (Britain)
206 Rickie Fowler (US)
207 Sergio Garcia (Spain)
Dustin Johnson (US)
208 Victor Dubuisson (France)
209 Edoardo Molinari (Italy)
210 Robert Karlsson (Sweden)
Matteo Manassero (Italy)
Jim Furyk (US)
Charl Schwartzel (South Africa)
Adam Scott (Australia)
It is 50 years since a player went into the fourth round of the Open with a bigger lead, on that occasion Tony Lema taking a seven-stroke advantage into Sunday at St Andrews in 1964.
Yet for much of the third round on a links course softened to perfection by stormy weather, McIlroy seemed in real danger of missing out on his fair share of the birdie feast which allowed 17 players to shoot sub-70 rounds and 35 to break par.
After 13 holes he was level par for the day and, with dark clouds brewing overhead, Fowler was breathing down his neck.
He responded with an incredible 3-3-3-3-5-3 climax to move clear and only an extraordinary turnaround on Sunday can prevent him completing a first Open triumph to add to the US Open and U.S PGA titles he won in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Should he close the deal on Sunday, the 25-year-old McIlroy will have completed three legs of the career slam on Sunday, leaving just the Masters title missing from his collection.
Spaniard Garcia, who hit back from a poor start in which he found two greenside bunkers at the first, is seven shots adrift in a tie for third place with Johnson after a round of 69.
Frenchman Victor Dubuisson is on eight under. Darren Clarke, the 2011 champion, fired the day's joint best round of 67 but three-times winner Tiger Woods, who started on the 10th along with half the field, was wallowing in a distant 58th place at three over par after a rusty 73.