Rory McIlroy three shots behind leader Tiger Woods in Atlanta

Rory McIlroy in Atlanta during the third round
Rory McIlroy in Atlanta during the third round

Tiger Woods took firm control of the season-ending Tour Championship with an outstanding third-round performance in Atlanta.

The 14-time major winner, chasing a first victory since 2013, carded seven birdies in a 65 that took him to 12 under and opened up a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose at East Lake.

The first six of those birdies came in the opening seven holes as Woods, who had been tied for the lead with Rose on seven under par, made a blistering start.

He set the tone by holing from more than 20 feet on the first hole. Only a par on the second interrupted his stunning early birdie sequence.

He holed another lengthy putt on the fourth while his birdies on the sixth and seventh came after impressive shots out of bunkers.

There was a setback with a bogey on the ninth but that was cancelled out by another birdie at the par-four 12th.

At one stage he led by five from Rose but he dropped another shot after failing to chip up a slope to the 16th green. He got his second attempt at the shot close to the hole and took a bogey before finishing his round with successive pars.

Rose, who can win the overall FedEx Cup title with victory here, birdied the 16th and McIlroy gained two shots late in his round to cut the deficit but Woods remained in charge heading into the final round.

The American told Sky Sports: “There are some good guys behind me chasing, guys who have been playing well, and I’ve got my work cut out tomorrow.”

Victory for Woods would cap a fine return to the top level this year following spinal fusion surgery in April 2017.

“This whole season has been pretty remarkable considering where I have come from,” said Woods.

Rose kept himself in contention after recovering from bogeys at the first two holes to post a two-under-par round of 68. McIlroy shot five birdies in a 66 to move level with his Ryder Cup colleague on nine under.

The American Kyle Stanley and Spain’s Jon Rahm were tied for fourth on six under with Paul Casey, Billy Horschel and Tony Finau a shot further back.