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McIlroy closing in on golf’s No. 1 ranking

March 4, 2012

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— Rory McIlroy is one round away from No. 1 in the world.

McIlroy made two big par saves Saturday on a windy back nine at PGA National and finished with a birdie from the bunker for a 4-under 66, giving him a two-shot lead over Harris English and Tom Gillis in the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was in a similar position a week ago when he reached the final of the Match Play Championship — win and the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland becomes the second-youngest player behind Tiger Woods to be No. 1 in the world.

Only this time, there is more than one player to contend with in the final round. Five players were within four shots of the lead, a group that includes PGA champion Keegan Bradley.

“I wasn’t standing up 2 up on the first tee in the final,” McIlroy said, smiling.

The group does not include Woods. He finally made a few putts, but not nearly enough to keep pace with everyone else. Woods went the last 11 holes without a birdie and had to settle for a 69, leaving him nine shots behind.

English, the 22-year-old rookie who won on the Nationwide Tour last year while still an amateur, made a 10-foot par save on the 17th and finished with a 66. He will be in the final group with McIlroy, a rare time when the U.S. Open champion will be playing with someone his own age with a tournament on the line.

They will be joined by Gillis, a 43-year-old journeyman who turned pro a year after McIlroy and English were born. Gillis had the lead to himself on the back nine until a bogey on the par-3 15th. He had a 69. McIlroy was at 11-under 199.

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