By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LAKE FOREST, Illinois (Reuters) - With his BMW Championship title defense in tatters after two poor scores over the first two days, Rory McIlroy made a welcome return to form during a lightning-fast display in Saturday's third round.
Paired with American Charley Hoffman in the first group to tee off after lying stone last in the elite field of 70 overnight, McIlroy fired a sparkling three-under-par 68 in warm, sunny conditions at Conway Farms Golf Club.
Though he ran up a double-bogey six at the 13th after hitting his third shot thin from a bunker and overshooting the green, he otherwise played flawless golf, recording three birdies and signing off in style with an eagle at the last.
"It's funny," world number four McIlroy told reporters after he and Hoffman had raced around the par-71 layout in only two hours 35 minutes. "You're going out there with no real goal.
"You're just trying to get in quick, you're just trying to play fast and you end up shooting a decent score.
"So maybe it's a case of I'm maybe just trying a bit too hard out there and not just letting it all sort of go," added the Northern Irishman, after posting a 10-over total of 223 in the third of the PGA Tour's four FedExCup playoff events.
The double major winner has endured a frustrating 2013 campaign after moving to the top of the world rankings last year and claiming the order of merit titles on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 15 starts on the PGA Tour this season, he has recorded just five top-10s, including a missed cut at the British Open in July.
Though McIlroy produced what he described as "glimpses" of good form during the first two playoff events, he made a bad start to this week with opening scores of 78 and 77.
"I'm looking forward to getting my game back to where it was," said the 24-year-old, who has not won a tournament since the European Tour's DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last November.
"I'm striking the ball well. That part of my game is totally fine. Just have to tighten it up around the greens and I'll be okay."
McIlroy, whose hopes of qualifying for next week's season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta evaporated after his poor start at Conway Farms, was mainly happy with his form on Saturday.
"But I have to throw in a double bogey," he laughed, having recorded a double in each of his three rounds this week. "A round isn't complete without a double bogey these days."
McIlroy, who hit a brilliant second shot from 202 yards to six feet at the par-five 18th, jested that he and Hoffman had been disappointed after initially aiming to complete the third round in two hours 30 minutes.
"We were looking for his ball on the fourth (hole) so he messed it up," McIlroy said with a grin after the pair had finished five minutes over their target.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)