The former World Number One toured the Close House course in Newcastle with six birdies and no bogeys to move to 10-under through 54 holes.
On a packed leaderboard the four time major winner shares seventh place, Swede Robert Karlsson in front alone at 12-under and one ahead of a group of five players.
Overnight leader Tyrrell Hatton is among that group as is Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, Ireland’s Paul Dunne and South African Open winner Graeme Storm.
McIlroy got off to a fast start in Saturday’s third round going to the turn 4-under and adding two further birdies on the back nine to be in contention for a first victory of 2017.
Out more than two hours ahead of the leaders McIlroy had the large galleries cheering early.
“We had an early tee time today but there was a lot of people out there and it was nice to have the support, and nicer to hit shots like that in front of them as well,” he said after signing his card.
“I expect to be a few behind going into tomorrow but it was a nice score to shoot. At least I put myself in the position today where if I do hole those putts tomorrow, it might mean something, so that's nice.
“It is very scorable out there and at least I know that if I shoot a good one tomorrow, I might have a good chance to win.”
For leader Karlsson it has been an unexpected week, the popular Swede not posting a top 10 all season and not winning since 2010.
However, the 48-year-old turned back the clock Saturday with an eagle and two birdies against a single dropped shot though said afterwards his short game saved him much of the round.
“I didn't hit the ball very good, so I put myself in a lot of trouble but I managed to keep it together very nicely and I'm very proud of the way I scored in the end,” he said.“Every time you play well, every time you're up in contention of tournaments, it's what we all practice for and what we all play for.“It's fantastic to play here, it's a great crowd and I'm very, very happy to be in the last group. It's a long time since I was there.”
Karlsson will need to be sharper tomorrow if he is to go on and win with a host of talented players among the chasing pack.
Fellow Swede David Lingmerth is just two behind after posting the best score of the day Saturday, an 8-under 62 which included nine birdies and a bogey.
“Got off to a little rocky start, had to save a couple pars early and I got rolling with the putter and made five birdies in a row,” he said of his round.
“I started swinging it better, too. I felt like I was in pretty good control of what I was doing out there today.”
Andrew Dodt is the best of the Australians at 6-under through three rounds and T25, one ahead of Wade Ormsby who was the only other Australian to make the cut.
SIGNATURE HOLES - 18TH AT CAMPBELLTOWN GC:
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