No player has ever won the final major of the year after trailing by more than nine strokes after 36 holes and McIlroy, whose last major win was the 2014 US PGA, looked incapable of bucking that trend, starting round three with bogeys on the second and fifth.
It was a welcome return to form for Jason Day who has struggled this season and the 2015 victor sits in third, two shots off the lead.
Graeme McDowell could manage only a five-over 76 and on seven-over overall he was having a weekend off, as was Padraig Harrington who was two-over through nine holes for his second round, but 10-over for the tournament.
After sinking a 22-foot par putt at the ninth, Matsuyama began his birdie charge with a 12-foot putt at the par-4 12th and six-footers at the par-3 13th and par-4 14th.
While many in the field struggle with the slopes of the putting surfaces or with trying to figure out the grain of the Bermuda grass, Kisner drained a 23-footer for eagle on the seventh, and added three more birdies on 10, 12 and 15.
And also looking to become a first Italian-born victor of a Major is the long-time London-based Francesco Molinari. Last week gave me an unbelievable sense of calm. I ended up leaving a lot of putts short.
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"I think Hideki, with the way he's been playing, his misses seem to be birdies right now".
The man to catch is American Kevin Kisner, who stayed out of trouble for a second straight 67, a remarkable score given the difficulty of the new greens, which are slippery, fast and rock hard.
Lahiri said, "Frankly I played solid but it was only in the second nine that I got going. (I'm) looking forward to tomorrow". "The key around here is keeping the ball out of the fairway".
On this par-3 17th, I three-putted from around 6-7 feet and that was probably the worst that happened on Thursday.
"I'm really fired up about it the way I'm hitting the golf ball", he said.
Kisner, 33, endured four runner-up finishes in 2015 before a breakthrough first US PGA Tour victory at Sea Island, Georgia, in his 109th attempt.
His drive at the 301-yard 14th hits the hole for what would have been a rare albatross at a par-four.
"It was sort of the same as the first couple of rounds", McIlroy said.