AUGUSTA, Ga. - U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell followed Masters leader Rory McIlroy around Augusta National for a few holes Saturday.
McDowell sent McIlroy a message after the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland shot a 4-under-par 68 that has him at 12 under for the tournament and four shots clear of the field heading into the final round.
"He just texted me and told me he loves me," McIlroy said. "I don't know what that means. I don't know whether if that's him or the beer talking."
McIlroy's run to the lead is the talk of watering holes up and down Washington Avenue.
Well, that and Tiger Woods falling out of the picture with a 74 on Saturday that left him tied for ninth and seven shots back. And that defending champion Phil Mickelson never gave himself a chance to repeat after rounds of 70, 72 and 71.
Their demise leaves Tulsa resident Bo Van Pelt as the top American on the leaderboard. He is in eighth place at 6 under after his own 68 Saturday.
"The world is big," said South African Charles Schwartzel, who is tied for second at 8-under 208 after 54 holes. "America is big, but the world is bigger. There's more people. There's just a bunch of good players out there from the European Tour and even Asia."
Argentina's Angel Cabrera shot a 67 on Saturday and climbed into the final pairing with McIlroy. He is tied at 208 with Schwartzel, Korea's K.J. Choi and Australia's Jason Day. England's Adam Scott, who shot 5 under, and Luke Donald are tied for sixth.
"I did enjoy the pressure today," Choi said through a translator. "You know, 8 under, I'm happy about where I am. I think I'm in a good position going into tomorrow, and you never know what can happen on the final day. So I'm looking forward to it."
McIlroy said he's ready for it, too. But not before he and three "mates" - Harry Diamond, Ricky McCormick and Mitchell Tweedie - continued their nightly routine of tossing around a football. Their venue has changed a bit from earlier in the week, however.
"We've been throwing it about the house, trying not to break any lamps," McIlroy said. "We don't want to disturb the lady next door.
"I have felt very comfortable and relaxed with them here because it takes your mind off things."
McIlroy had his mind in the right spots all of Saturday - even though his ball didn't cooperate as often as he liked, resulting in three bogeys for him. But he balanced those mistakes with four birdies, including what he called a bonus bird on No. 17. An imperfect tee shot left him 155 yards out and needing to curl the ball around a tree in front of him to get on the green. His approach landed 33 feet away.
His putt turned left in the last foot and dropped in the hole. McIlroy reacted with a Nicklaus-like lift of his putter and two Tiger-like fist-pumps.
"It was great because I had been waiting on a putt to sort of drop all day, and for it to drop there, it was great timing," McIlroy said. "After the tee shot, I would have just loved to walk away from that green with a 4 and moved on."
He's moving on to a Sunday at the Masters with a four-shot lead over four players, a five-shot lead over two golfers, and only one of those pursuers have won a major - Cabrera.
"Once you are on 10, that's when you know the tournament starts," said Cabrera, who won the 2007 U.S. Open and the 2009 Masters. "That's when you know whether you have to be aggressive [or] you have to be a little back and conservative."
"But obviously I have won the Masters, so that should help a lot."
It may not be enough considering Cabrera will have to erase the four-shot deficit and hold off the rest of the contenders. McIlroy is showing no signs of giving away strokes and certainly not the lead. His lead is the largest after 54 holes since Woods strolled to a record 12-shot win in 1997.
"I've prepared as good as anyone else. I feel as if I'm stroking the ball, hitting the ball as good as anyone else," McIlroy said. "I just feel with my all-around game this week, it's been comfortable."
That's good, considering only texts from a friend seem to make him a little uncomfortable.