Hovland started the Tour Championship tournament on eight under par on the handicap system as the number two seed due to his good form over the year, and pushed away from American Xander Schauffele who sits in second place.
He said the tournament has felt like more of a sprint then a marathon but “it’s hard to win the FedEx Cup if you haven’t played well the last few weeks”.
“It’s just a great list of names that’s won the tournament… and it would be awesome to have my name on there.
“Like, putting it all together, I don’t think I’ve ever played this well before, with this stretch, just putting all the short game and stuff together.”
The 25-year-old hit a four under par 66 to finish the day on 20 under, landing five birdies and one bogey to get closer to the 18 million dollar prize that comes with the trophy.
McIlroy won the title last year and holds the most FedEx Cup wins with three, but sits tied for eighth on nine under par.
Austrian Sepp Straka gave Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who has been at the DP World Tour’s Czech Masters this week to keep a close eye on potential selections, a nudge with seven birdies in a joint best of the day 65.
That score, matched by England’s Tommy Fleetwood who is certain to be in the team for Rome next month, lifted him into a tie for 11th on eight under.