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Can anyone catch the kid?

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUGUSTA -- It was so hot and humid at Augusta National on Saturday you could almost feel the azaleas sweating.

And as the grand old course watched the players march their way into today's final chapter of the 75th anniversary of the Masters, the world waited for Tiger Woods to roar -- and waited for the kid from Ireland to wilt.

They're still waiting.

If you're looking for Rory McIlroy to go away, you might want to grab a Snickers. It might be a while for this baby-faced 21-year-old, who looks more and more like he was made for a green jacket. He has a chance to go wire-to-wire at the Masters, where they have grass cuttings almost as old as this year's leader of the most treasured event in golf.

He's led every day, and after firing a 65 on Day 1, a 69 on Day 2 and 70 on Saturday, McIlroy will wake up today with a four-stroke lead against a field that has come to respect him almost as much as the public has become in awe of him.

And he will awaken with confidence -- even facing the most treacherous stretch in all of golf: the Sunday back nine at the Masters.

"We all know where the pins are going to be (today) on the back nine,'' McIlroy said. "But I feel very comfortable with the way I'm swinging it at the minute. I've hit a lot of good shots over the last three days, and there's no reason I won't be able to do that (today).''

He's convincing.

"The way he's hitting the ball, he can pretty much go out there and he can shoot a couple under par and I think he'll probably win,'' said 23-year-old Jason Day, the other half of two-kid brigade that led the field Saturday morning. Day, playing in his first Masters, took a one-stroke lead when he birdied the sixth hole, but faded in the stretch and -- after three-putting No. 16 -- he finished the day at 72, tied with three others, and four strokes behind McIlroy.

"A lot of guys are four strokes back, so there's a lot of pressure on us to obviously go out there and score early and try to put some pressure on him so he can make some mistakes,'' Day said. "But you know, he's very mentally tough. He's a great golfer and if he wins this thing (today) he deserves it, definitely.''

The group that's crowding the top includes Angel Cabrera, who won here in 2009, Charles Schwartzel, and K.J. Choi. Cabrera began the day seven strokes back, but nailed six birdies and fired a 67 to climb to finish at 8-under, and Schwartzel shot a 68 to join the second-place club. Choi began the day three strokes back and shot a 71 to fall four behind.

There are only two golfers who have ever won a major sitting in the Top 10, Cabrera and Woods.

"Yeah, the young kids are playing very well,'' Cabrera said. "I think they deserve it, Rory, Jason. But obviously, I have won a Masters, so that should help me a lot.''

So did a four-month layoff. Cabrera had tendonitis in his left wrist and his doctor told him to shut it down, but after missing the cut in Houston last week he has come on with a vengeance in Augusta.

Last year's winner, Phil Mickelson, won at Houston but has struggled all week with his putting and is nine shots back after shooting a 71 on Saturday.

Then there's Woods.

His dramatic and inspirational charge Friday that had fans singing his name in galleries, ended Saturday almost as soon as it had begun. Folks are still waiting on Woods, who has been trying to come back for more than a year now after his domestic difficulties, trying to find something that reminds them of the Tiger of old.

He gave fans a glimpse Friday, torching the back nine and climbing to within three strokes of the leader, and then disappeared again Saturday, melting away with a round of 74 that was littered in anguish and missed putts that seemed to taunt Woods all afternoon.

Woods' first two putts of the day lipped in and out -- the ultimate tease. And after he found a birdie on the third hole with a 12-foot putt that had the gallery shouting, he hit his worst tee shot of the day on the par-3 fourth hole, and settled for his second bogey. The tone was set, and Woods, who fired a 66 on Friday, finished the day with a 2-over that left him seven strokes behind McIlroy.

"I'm pleased with the way I played. I just made nothing (Saturday),'' Woods said. "I hit so many putts early that looked like they were going to go in that didn't go in, and also had a few three-putts out there -- so not very good.''

He is still lingering, and anything can happen on the final day of the Masters, a pressure cooker that has left a legacy of broken hearts.

"I'm going to have to put together a good front nine and see what happens,'' Woods said.

But can they catch McIlroy, who could become the youngest player to win the Masters since Woods won it in 1997? Woods was 21 years and three months. McIIroy is 21 years and 11 months.

He's got curly hair and a cherubic face that makes him look even younger, but he's 21 and talking about playing stress-relief golf and being comfortable, strolling Augusta as if he owned it -- and he has for three days.

He had four birdies Saturday, but what makes McIlroy seem so tough, so infallible, is the way he finished. He birdied three of the last six holes, and he gave everyone a shot to remember this Masters by when he dropped in a 33-foot putt on 17 that broke right and then left -- a putt that had McIlroy pumping his fist in elation with his most demonstrative show of emotion all week.

"That was great timing,'' he said later of that moment. "It was a bonus. After my (bad) tee shot, I would have just loved to have walked off that green with a four and moved on to 18. I hit the putt perfectly where I lined it up. It was tracking the whole way and just dropped in the middle. It was great. I had been waiting for a putt to drop all day, and for it to drop in there -- it was great timing.''

McIlroy looks young enough to be carded in any bar in America, but you can bet the kid from Holywood (that's not a misprint), Northern Ireland, will never have to buy another beer any pub in Ireland if he wins today.

He knows what's at stake.

"It feels nice (having a four-stroke lead on the final day). It feels good,'' he said. "I'm not getting ahead of myself. I know how leads can dwindle away very quickly. I have to go out there and not take anything for granted and go out and play as hard as I've played the last three days.

"If I do that, hopefully, things will go my way.''

Nerves may play a big part in today's final round, but the kid said he is ready, and admitted the adrenaline will be flowing when he stands at the first tee for the final round.

"It's natural to get nervous,'' he said. "If I wasn't nervous at the first tee (today) there would be something wrong. "So, yeah, I'll be nervous, but once that first tee shot gets out there you're off and running and you're just trying to do your thing.''