The 29-year-old quadruple major champion said he had kept patient and drew on his experience despite at times the windy conditions exposing flaws in his game, he still came in one-under par to join last year’s runner-up Francesco Molinari on 13 under par.
They have a four shot cushion on a quartet which includes last year’s champion Alex Noren, who also had an adventure-filled round.
“It was a struggle out there today,” said McIlroy, who won the PGA title in 2014 but has also missed four cuts.
“But I am proud of myself as I stayed patient and relied on my experience.
“It is pleasing to still be up there and tied for the lead.”
McIlroy began badly including a double bogey at the sixth where during his event-filled journey to the green he managed to hit a female spectator on the hand with one shot — her wincing in pan reflecting the feelings of McIlroy’s many followers in the gallery.
He steadied himself in the middle and kept himself on the tail of Molinari although once again on the 18th a wild drive this time drew blood from the head of another female spectator who was comforted by him and then was swathed in bandages.
“It obviously affects you when you see blood,” said McIlroy, who along with playing partner Sam Horsfield also hit the same unfortunate marshal on the 17th.
“I said sorry and I hope they are ok. I don’t know what else I could do offering them a glove wouldn’t have been much of a consolation.
“Are the crowds too close to play here? Well when you’re hitting the balls like I was today they are,” he added smiling.
McIlroy, who after a bright start to the season has seen his form go flat since the Masters eluded him once again in April, said there was enough quality behind to give him and Molinari food for thought.
“We have a cushion so it could be a two hose race if we get off to good starts,” he said.
“However, look what happened last year Alex cam from nowhere and blew them away.”
Whilst McIlroy’s round was anything but a thing of beauty Molinari’s was picture perfect with six birdies and even when the Italian put his ball into water on the final hole he managed to save par.
– ‘In the heart of Italian Golfers’ -Molinari, a two-time winner of the Italian Open, is all too mindful of what happened last year but he is keen to add his name to the list of previous Italian winners.
“It would be amazing to win here with such a tradition,” said Molinari.
“It’s a course that is in the heart of Italian Golfers, as well, with Costantino (Rocca in 1996) and Matteo (Manassero in 2013) winning here in the past,” added the 35-year-old.
Noren, who denied Molinari last year with a scintillating last round 62, is very much still in contention posting three successive birdies early on the back nine before handing those shots back but finished with two more birdies.
Veteran Lee Westwood is also lying ready to pounce as he carded a second successive 69, leaving the 45-year-old Englishman five off the lead.
Westwood, who was named a Ryder Cup vice-captain earlier in the week but if he won the PGA could easily qualify for the team in a competition he has reserved some of his finest Golf for, said he was delighted to be in with a chance of victory.
“I figured if the breeze got up Rory would drop some shots,” said Westwood.
“I think being in contention in these big tournaments is what it’s all about. It’s where you want to be, and it’s nice to have a chance tomorrow.”
Know more about Sport360 Application