McIlroy became a father for the first time earlier in the week -13: D Johnson, J Rahm (Spa); -11: J Thomas; -9: R McIlroy (NI); -7: A Ancer (Mex)
Rory McIlroy birdied his last three holes to stay in the fight for a $ 15 million winner ( £ 11.3 million) prize at the Tour Championship that was at the end of the season.
The 31-year-old shot a round six below par and reached nine under overall at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. ]
Players at the event are handicapped based on FedEx Cup points earned during the season, so McIlroy started seven shots behind Dustin Johnson with the highest rank.
Johnson got a round three and shares the lead with Jon Rahm.
Johnson and Rahm – number one and two respectively in the world – alternated back and forth.
Rahm drilled a huge putt at 15 to level up with Johnson, but the American drained a long putt himself to regain the lead while his rival watched.
Moments later on the 16th, Rahm moved down to five for his round with another little bird, eventually causing them to start day two with some of the lead.
McIlroy – who became a father for the first time earlier this week – clawed shots back into the handicap system to win the 2019 Tour Championship .
This year he stuttered early with three birdies and two drop shots in his nine hole opening before finding five birdies on the back nine.
McIlroy also won the event in 2016 and a win this week would put him on par with Tiger Woods' record of three Tour Championship wins.
How the Tour Championship Works
Players collect FedEx Cup points during the season and the top 30 in the rankings compete for the Tour Championship.
The player with the highest ranking starts the tournament with 72 holes at 10 under par, while the second seed starts at 8 under par.
The third seed goes down at seven below and so on to the fifth seed at five below. Seeds 6-10 start at −4; seeds 11-15 start at -3; and so on, up to seeds 26-30 that will start proportionally.