PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Rory McIlroy shot his worst round of the 2014 Honda Classic on Saturday.
Even so, he managed to increase his tournament lead.
McIlroy started the day with a one-shot advantage, and his 1-under-par 69 on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa upped it to two shots over Russell Henley heading into Sunday’s final round.
“I think [Saturday] was the most difficult day of the last few days,” McIlroy said. “This golf course is all about not making mistakes.”
So, what about Sunday?
“A two-shot lead is a great position to be in going into Sunday,” McIlroy said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care if I win by one or win by seven, as long I get the job done.”
McIlroy’s lead is far from comfortable, with a host of contenders — seven players are five or fewer strokes back — waiting for him to give them some kind of opening.
So far, McIlroy has refused as he tries to go wire-to-wire by leading after all four rounds.
“If you keep playing solid golf, playing smart, hitting fairways, hitting greens, it’s going to make the job of the other guys behind you very difficult if you’re not making mistakes,” said McIlory, who has posted rounds of 63, 66 and 69 for a 12-under 198 total.
Saturday was a day when the course got tougher, the winds got tougher and the ever-growing rough got tougher.
However, McIlroy also seemed to be getting tougher and tougher.
McIlroy’s up-and-down round started strongly as he made birdies on Nos. 1 and 3. He quickly gave that back with bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7. On the back, he birdied No. 12, gave it back with bogey on No. 14 and then went to 1-under with a birdie on 16.
With a little luck, his score would have been lower.
On the closing two holes, he barely missed long putts, the first on No. 17 by a quarter-inch and then by an inch on No. 18.
Nevertheless, McIlroy, who won this event in 2012 to move to No. 1 in the world at the time, is not bemoaning the fact his lead is not larger.
“I’m still in the lead of the golf tournament, and I can’t be disappointed with that,” McIlroy, 24, said. “Especially with the way I played. I think I played really solid. I didn’t do much wrong.”
The person closest to McIlroy on the leaderboard is Henley, a 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate who has one PGA Tour victory, the 2013 Sony Open, to his credit.
Henley (64-68-68 — 200) started the day in lackluster fashion, shooting 1-over 36 on the front nine. Then he found his game with two birdies and an eagle on the back for a 32 and 68.
That score thrust him into Sunday’s final pairing with McIlroy.
“I have never been paired with him,” Henley said of McIlroy.
Nevertheless, he has a strategy before teeing off on Sunday.
“I’ll try not to be paying attention to what is Rory is doing,” Henley said. “Obviously, he’s playing great, and he’s been in this situation a little bit more than me. I have a lot of confidence, and I’m just going to try to play my game and not worry too much about what he’s doing.
“For me to be in the last group is pretty nice.”
One person who made a nice move up the leaderboard on Saturday was Tiger Woods, who is tied for 17th.
After two days of mediocre to less-than-mediocre golf, Woods finally put a round together, shooting a 5-under 65 for a to get to 5-under 205. That leaves him seven strokes behind McIlroy and with virtually no chance to catch him.
Woods’ largest final-round comeback to win a PGA Tour tournament is five strokes.
Nevertheless, Woods was pleased with Saturday’s result.
“[Saturday] I struck the ball well and made some putts,” he said.