Playing and putting with confidence, Rory McIlroy turned a two-shot deficit into a three-shot lead Saturday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
The world's No. 3-ranked golfer shot a bogey-free four-under-par 68 on the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral for a three-round total of 12-under 204.
Second-round leader Adam Scott and defending champion Dustin Johnson were tied for second at nine-under 207.
Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Danny Willett were tied for fourth at seven-under 209.
McIlroy had four birdies over his first 10 holes and parred in from there. He got up and down all five times he missed a green.
"I'm pretty sure that's my first bogey-free round of the year. To do it in a round like this is very pleasing," McIlroy said. "I've been saying all week that I've been making the birdies and I've been hitting the good shots. I've just been making too many mistakes.
"So to play the last 36 holes on a golf course like this with just one bogey on the card is really what I wanted to achieve this week. I feel really good about my game. My ball striking, tee to green, my driving, that really hasn't been an issue this year. That's been where I wanted it to be. But my scrambling and my putting have needed work."
McIlroy put the exclamation point on his short game at the 18th hole, which consistently ranks as the most difficult finishing hole on the PGA Tour. After he hit his approach into a greenside bunker, 61 feet from the pin, he blasted out to six feet and made the putt.
"I feel like the practice that I've put in over the last few weeks is really starting to pay off," McIlroy said. "Just look at some of the saves I had out there today and some of the big par putts; those were the things that were missing over the past three or four tournaments."
The native of Northern Ireland, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, switched to a cross-handed or left-hand low putting grip this week after practicing with it for two hours a day for four days. He said he sent video of his new stroke to putting coach Dave Stockton, who loved what he saw.
Over the last two days, McIlroy has loved the results.
"I feel like the putting is becoming instinctive," he said. "I definitely think the first day, I was focusing more on the technical side rather than the feel side. … It's felt pretty good the last couple of days."
Scott, who is coming off a victory at the Honda Classic, couldn't get anything going on a breezy afternoon at Doral.
After shooting 68-66 the first two days for a two-shot lead over McIlroy and Johnson, Scott shot 73 with only two birdies and three bogeys.
"I didn't have my best stuff, that's for sure," Scott said. "And I just couldn't get a putt to go in. Rory played really good golf and got away from me a bit. I've got my work cut out for me tomorrow now.
"I just didn't feel as good as I have for the last couple weeks. But hopefully I'll wake up on the right side of the bed tomorrow."
Johnson, who had eight birdies Friday for a 64, shot 71 with three birdies and two bogeys, including one on the 18th hole when he failed to get up and down after coming up short of the green.
"I feel like I'm playing really well," said Johnson, who will be in the final pairing with McIlroy on Sunday. "Today I missed a couple of short putts and didn't really hole any putts and still shot one-under on a tough day. So I'm pleased with that."
Paired with Scott on Saturday, McIlroy immediately cut his deficit to one shot after hitting his third shot from a greenside bunker at the par-five first hole to four feet and making the putt.
McIlroy and Scott were tied for the lead when Scott bogeyed the par-three fourth hole after hitting his tee shot into the heavy rough in front of a bunker and failing to get up and down. When McIlroy birdied the fifth hole by rolling in a seven-foot putt, he was in front to stay.