ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) - Michael Hoey moved closer to giving Northern Ireland another big golf victory by seizing a three-shot lead after the third round of the Dunhill Links Championship on Saturday.
The 32-year-old Hoey built on the overnight lead he shared with England's Tommy Fleetwood by making five birdies and an eagle in a 6-under 66 at Carnoustie, moving to 18 under and putting a host of world-class names in the shade in the $5 million event.
"My short game was unbelievable, the best it's ever been," said Hoey, whose nearest challenger is compatriot Graeme McDowell after his third straight 67. "I'm definitely getting all the breaks as well. Everything has just gone my way so far."
Northern Ireland has become the epicenter of world golf after major championship wins by Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy over the past 15 months.
Hoey, ranked No. 271, is rarely mentioned in the same breath as his three more illustrious compatriots but as a former British Amateur champion, he has always had the potential.
"He's a supremely talented player, always has been," McIlroy said. "For him, it's been a mental thing but he obviously has a clear head and is playing very well."
McDowell and McIlroy, who won the last two U.S. Opens, were among those in hot pursuit of Hoey after a day of low scoring in east Scotland, despite the increasingly wet conditions after two sunny days.
McDowell is a stroke clear of South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, who is alone in third place after shooting 69 on his first competitive return to St. Andrews since his British Open triumph there last year.
McIlroy (66) was among a group of seven players on 13 under along with top-ranked Luke Donald and Simon Dyson, who both shot 63s at St. Andrews to equal McIlroy's course record set last year. Fleetwood was also on that total after a 71 at Carnoustie.
Hoey was the compatriot McIlroy looked up to as a youngster, with the pair often playing together at the same club.
Hoey's career hasn't quite had the same trajectory as that of third-ranked McIlroy, who is widely viewed as heir apparent to Tiger Woods.
However, Hoey - chasing only his third title since turning pro in 2002 - has moved out of the shadows of McIlroy and McDowell this week, with his three-round total of 198 breaking the tournament's 54-hole record set by Donald in 2004 and Nick Dougherty in 2007.
"I've probably just been too hard on myself," Hoey said, when asked why he has never realized his potential. "So I've been trying to relax and I've done that well so far."
McDowell, who chipped in from 100 yards for eagle at No. 3 and also made four birdies, is the same age as Hoey and also knows him well after spending time with him playing Royal Portrush as teenagers.
"He's just never kicked on," McDowell said of Hoey. "But he's the kind of guy with a huge amount of talent that, when he applies himself, is as good as anyone out there."
McIlroy rested up the last two weeks, not hitting a ball in 10 days leading up to the tournament, and the time off appears to have done him good. His 66 at St. Andrews left him five shots off the pace.
"It was good but it could've been better," said McIlroy. "As long as a couple of the guys don't get too far ahead, I feel as if I've got a chance going into tomorrow."
With every member of the 168-man field having played the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns over the past three days, the 70 players to have made the cut at 5 under will all play St. Andrews again on Sunday.
While Donald - the leader of the money lists both sides of the Atlantic - birdied the last to match the course record, Dyson just missed shooting a 62 when his putt for a 10th birdie of his round came up six inches short at the last.
Dyson has won the Irish Open and the KLM Open in the Netherlands over the past two months, while also starring at the Vivendi Seve Trophy, and is putting his improvement in form down to giving up drinking.
"I haven't had a drink in 11 weeks. I'm quite enjoying how I'm feeling," said the Englishman.
It wasn't all good news for the Northern Irish, however, with British Open champion Clarke missing the cut after a 70 left him on 1 over.
Fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson of the United States - second behind Clarke at Royal St. George's - was the other high-profile name not to make Sunday's play after a 70 at St. Andrews put him on 2 under.