AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy gave himself a timely confidence boost for next week's PGA Championship as he charged into a tie for fourth in Saturday's third round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The 23-year-old, who had missed three cuts in his previous five starts on the PGA Tour, fired a second successive three-under-par 67 at Firestone Country Club to end a tricky day for scoring five shots behind pacesetting American Jim Furyk.
"I hit the ball well from tee to green, and I took a few of my chances early on," world number three McIlroy told reporters after mixing four birdies with a lone bogey on another steamy day at fast-running and breezy Firestone.
"I actually had a couple of big saves around four, five and six, and just finished it off well.
"If I can go ahead and shoot a good one tomorrow ... get off to a really fast start and get myself right in there with a chance, then there's no better way to prepare for next week."
McIlroy, who won his first major title by a staggering eight shots at last year's U.S. Open, made a storming start to his 2012 PGA Tour campaign with four top-threes in his first five appearances, including victory at the Honda Classic in March.
However, the fan favorite then lost form, missing cuts at the prestigious Players Championship and the Memorial tournament before coming in for some criticism that he was not spending enough time practicing the game.
McIlroy went on to miss another cut in his title defense at the U.S. Open and tied for 60th at last month's British Open before regaining both form and confidence at Firestone this week.
"Yeah, it's getting there, it definitely is," he said of his renewed vigor for the game. "I've worked hard to get it back. The last few weeks have been tough just playing so great.
"Obviously my expectations every time I tee it up are pretty high, and not to live up to my own expectations is not nice, but I feel like I'm definitely moving in the right direction."
Asked when he had last felt as comfortable on the golf course, McIlroy replied: "Not for a while, probably going into Quail Hollow."
In pursuit of a fourth PGA Tour victory, McIlroy lost out in a three-way playoff for the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in May when Rickie Fowler clinched his maiden title.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Simon Evans)