On a day when Swede David Lingmerth set the tone with a course-record 62 in the third fifth match out, Ramsay backed up a brace of 67s with a 65 for an 11-under-par total.
The 34-year-old sits in a share of second, one behind behind leader Robert Karlsson from Sweden, as he bids to add his name to a stellar list of Scots to have their names on this trophy.
Jimmy Adams shared the spoils in the inaugural staging back in 1946, since when Eric Brown (1957), Bernard Gallacher (1974 and 1975), Sandy Lyle (1988), Sam Torrance (1995), Colin Montgomerie (1998) and Gary Orr (2000) have also tasted success in the event.
“If I keep playing like I did today, then I definitely have a shout tomorrow,” said Ramsay, whose triumph in the Hassan Trophy in Morocco in March 2015 was the last by a Scot in a regular European Tour event.
The Aberdonian had already picked up birdies at sixth and eighth before rolling in a 25-foot eagle putt at the ninth, where the tee had been moved up 90 yards to tempt players to go for the green at the par-4.
He then birdied the 13th to round off another good day’s work in the Tyne Valley, where more than 45,000 fans have turned up to see the biggest golf event to be staged in the North East.
“I played solid again,” added Ramsay, who is alongside English trio Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter and Graeme Storm, as well as Irishman Paul Dunne. “Momentum has been a big thing for me so far this week and I made a good up and down at the second today in that respect.
“I felt I could have a chance when I saw this course for the first time due to it being more a second-shot course than somewhere you just hitting driver all the time.
“It’s good to be in the mix and I am feeling really comfortable out there, which is great.”
McIlroy’s 64 for a 10-under total - host Lee Westwood is a shot further back - was his best effort since signing for the same score in the final round of the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour in June.
“While the conditions were perfect for going low, it is nice to shoot a score like that, especially when I’ve not had one for a while,” said the 28-year-old.
It was sparked by a “good start”, which included a chip-in birdie at the short fifth that probably raised the biggest cheer of the week.
“Today was a round I got the most of,” admitted McIlroy after revealing he’d been fired up by a curry on Friday night in Newcastle. “I scrambled well when I needed to. I also gave myself plenty of chances and made some of them.”
Karlsson, who hasn’t won since 2010, carded a 67 to grab the lead, which he shared with Hatton until the halfway pacesetter missed a four-foot par putt at the last for a 71.
Maintaining his recent improved run of form, which included finishing runner-up in the Portugal Masters last weekend, Marc Warren signed for six birdies in a 65 to sit joint-16th on eight-under-par.
The 34-year-old got “off to a flyer” as he made three birdies in the first four holes before also producing some good work at the end of his round as he hit a 4-iron to three feet at the 201-yard 18th for a closing birdie.
“I’m really pleased with a score like that,” said Warren, who jumped to 100th in the Race to Dubai last week and is on course here to take another big step towards wrappiing up his European Tour card for next season.
“My ball-striking was great at the start and it carried on most of the day. I felt in control and even with the one or two bad shots you have in a round, I now feel I know what to do technically out on the course.”
This is Warren’s third event with a new caddie, Steve Brotherhood, and the pair appear to have hit it off straight away. “He’s focusing my mind more on targets going into greens and it seems to be working so far,” he said.
Warren will have played 10 events in a row by the time he adds the Dunhill Links, Italian Open and Valderrama Masters to his current run. He also has a big family event on the horizon.
“Our second baby is due on the Monday after the Dunhill,” he said of wife Laura being heavily pregnant at the moment.
Stephen Gallacher is two shots behind Warren after he fired a 66 in a round that took just two hours and 47 minutes.
“Not bad for an old man,” he quipped after taking full advantage of playing on his own in the first match out to speed around.
The 42-year-old reckoned he would have been finished even quicker if it hadn’t been for some of the steep climbs at the Northumberland venue.
“Have you seen some of the hills out there?” he said. “That’s why I was taking it a bit easier than I might have done. If it was Sunningdale, I’d have been round in two hours.
“You’ll never be able to blame me for being slow any time on a golf course, but I like playing on my own. That’s how I like to practice. If you are first out, you can zip round.”
Battling to hang on to his card, Duncan Stewart signed for a 67 to sit on five-under before dashing off to watch the Camanachd Cup Final between Newtonmore and Lovat on TV.
“I used to play for Newtonmore, so I’ll be rooting for them,” said the Grantown-on-Spey man of the clash at Bught Park in Inverness.
He was “relatively happy” with his day’s work on the golf course but reckons a lower score had been out there.
“It’s so easy,” said Stewart, who is sitting 123rd in the Race to Dubai and needs to get into the top 100 to be safe. “The greens are both soft and good, so six or seven-under was definitely on today.
“I tried to force it a bit on the back nine, but it wasn’t quite there.
“However, I was talking to Russell Knox over dinner last night and we were saying how often players shoot 10-under on the weekend after just making the cut and that’s the goal.”
Scott Jamieson is alongside Stewart on five-under after a 69, with David Drysdale, the other Scot to make it to the weekend, sitting on two-under following a 70.