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 Northern Irishman visited Disney World after his second round
 McIlroy trails Matt Fitzpatrick by a stroke going into final round

Rory McIlroy plays a shot on the 16th during his third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, the day after his return visit to Disney World.
 Rory McIlroy plays a shot on the 16th during his third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, the day after his return visit to Disney World. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

It is hard to imagine the Tower of Terror being a precursor to glory, let alone influential in the very same. Rory McIlroy, seeking to successfully defend a title for the first time in his professional career, hopes precisely that will prove the scenario on Sunday.

McIlroy will take to day four at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the final group. He trails Matt Fitzpatrick by a stroke as nine under par plays eight under par through 54 holes.

Twelve months ago, McIlroy and his wife, Erica, visited Disney World. There was, then, method in his return to the theme park after his second round at Bay Hill. Plus, it seems, an element of “when in Rome”. The 29-year-old identified the Tower of Terror, described as a “haunted, elevator-style lift” as his favourite this time. He hopes the frights end there.

“I think if you come to Orlando and you don’t go to the parks you’re sort of missing out on something,” McIlroy added. “Erica told me last year the only reason I won this event is because we went to the Magic Kingdom on Friday. So I thought: ‘Let’s go back to Disney and have a good time again.’ It’s nice to do it every once in a while.”

The same applies to winning, needless to say. McIlroy’s Saturday 66 was his lowest round so far and, unsurprisingly, featured his best golf. The highlight of successive nines of 33 was a 160-yard approach to the 15th, which finished just a foot from the hole.

“This is what I’ve been working on; the consistency in my game, consistency in my mindset, my thinking, not getting ahead of myself, staying patient,” McIlroy said. “I think by doing that I’ll find myself in this position more often, even if I don’t have my best stuff out there. It was a little scrappy Thursday and Friday but definitely felt a lot better today. Hopefully I can continue and bring that into tomorrow as well. It’s a great opportunity tomorrow to do something I’ve never done before. So that’s exciting.”

Fitzpatrick’s 67 included some wonderful scrambling, including par-saves from bunkers on the closing two holes, during the most testing of the day-three conditions. The Yorkshireman has not won on this side of the Atlantic but his composed nature means be will not be overawed by McIlroy’s presence. This promises to be an intriguing battle between players of contrasting styles. Fitzpatrick fired a Saturday night warning , saying how much he enjoys this venue.

“I know how the fans feel about Rory over here and as best as I can just try and take it as a sort of friendly game of golf, if you can,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s no point in trying to hit it past him or trying to do anything like Rory. We’ve both got strengths and both got weaknesses and that’s why we practise to try and get better.

“I’m a bit lucky, I’ve rented a place in Jupiter for a little bit and become probably a little bit close with Rory, just hitting balls alongside him and becoming a bit more friendly. I think that, having that, I know what it’s like, I’ve played with him before.”

The leaderboard is so wonderfully congested that it would be unwise to discount up to 30 players. Aaron Baddeley, Matt Wallace and Kevin Kisner are seven under. Rafa Cabrera Bello – at minus six – plus Tyrrell Hatton and Martin Kaymer, who are both five under, add further European flavour to the scene. Graeme McDowell’s 69 and four-under total mean the prospects of his claiming a berth at the Open in his native Portrush from this event remain live.