Among 26 players unable to complete their third rounds because of Saturday’s thunderstorm, the 23-year-old Ulsterman — up at 5.30am to prepare for his remaining 27 holes — went three clear of the field with a five under par 67.
McIlroy achieved that in spite of missing putts of three and five feet when he resumed on the back nine at 7.45am.
Last year’s US Open champion failed to birdie the long 11th and bogeyed the next, but came back superbly with a 10-foot putt on the 444-yard 15th and then a two-putt birdie at the long 16th.
Two closing pars — the short 17th after he managed to get up and down from sand — kept him at seven under par.
“Could have been better,” he said. “I gave myself plenty of chances and the start was not what I wanted, but to play the last four in two under was nice.”
Swede Carl Pettersson was in second place following a 72, while joint third one shot further back were Australian Adam Scott, South African Trevor Immelman and American Bo Van Pelt.
Woods at tied sixth
As for Tiger Woods, he was in a tie for sixth five strokes behind after an eventful morning that even included a fight with a cactus plant. Woods’ first shot was an eight-footer for par on the eighth and by lipping out he registered his fourth bogey in five holes and fell all the way to joint 17th.