McIlroy, playing his first tournament since October 2017, was sublime in posting a third round 65 which included eight birdies against his only bogey in 54 holes.
Overnight leader Thomas Pieters maintained his place atop the leaderboard but was joined by England’s Ross Fisher who matched McIlroy’s 65.
At 17-under the pair are one ahead of the Northern Irishman who holds third place alone, one in front of defending champion Tommy Fleetwood and another Englishman, Matt Fitzpatrick, who fired the round of the week with a 9-under 63.
But it is McIlroy they will all be watching as tomorrow’s final round unfolds, the four-time major winner desperate to get his year off to a positive start at a tournament that has tormented him over the course of his professional career.
In nine starts he has been runner-up four times and finished third on two other occasions but never won.
“It would mean a lot,” Mcilroy said when asked about the possibility of a victory.
“I've had a lot of close calls here, I think about six top threes or something like that. I've never won my first start back out.
“It's felt like a while since I've won and just to give myself these chances; I gave myself a chance at the end of the year at Close House and wasn't able to do it.
“Paul Dunne played too well for me. I'm excited to get back on the horse and give myself another chance tomorrow.”
While most now consider McIlroy the favourite he will have his work cut out to lift the trophy tomorrow with some of the world’s best lurking within five shots of the lead.
World Number One Dustin Johnson backed up his 8-under 64 from Friday with a 4-under 68 to be at 12-under and five off the lead while in form Branden Grace is 13-under and capable of going low.
Of the Australians Sam Brazel continues to fly the flag after posting a creditable 2-under 70 in the company of McIlroy on day three.
The Lismore native is 11-under and six behind the leaders, one ahead of Western Australia’s Jason Scrivener and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox.
Scott Hend added a second consecutive 69 Saturday to get to 7-under for the week and hold a share of 30th place, the last of the Australians to make the cut.
NAT WHITTINGTON ON THE IMPORTANCE OF VISUALISING SHOTS:
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