A bogey-bogey finish might have left Rory McIlroy six shots off the pace but he was encouraged by a mid-round purple patch as he rallied to shoot 69 and move up to tied 24th in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow
The world No 3 picked up five shots in a four-hole stretch around the turn to briefly move within three strokes of midway leader Andrew Loupe, only to bogey his final two holes and close a three-under 69.
Having followed an eagle-three at the seventh with a hat-trick of birdies to make his move up the leaderboard, McIlroy bounced back from a blemish at the 12th to leave a kick-in birdie at the 14th.
Having struggled to an opening-round 73, he struggled down the Green Mile closing stretch, leaving his approaches in to the 15th and 16th short of the green before two-putting from 20 feet for bogey at the 17th
A pushed drive at the last resulted in an approach that failed to cut, sailing straight into the stream that protects the left side of the green.
"Obviously it's not nice to finish the way I did with two bogeys, but the rest of the card looks pretty good," McIlroy told Sky Sports after getting up and down for bogey. "I wish it was a little lower but it's a step in the right direction."
Referring to the closing 62 that gave him his first PGA Tour win six years ago, he said: "I'm here for the weekend and hopefully I can put together a weekend like I have here in the past."
Tied 75th after an opening 73, McIlroy birdied the fifth and then three putted the sixth before chipping in for eagle at the seventh and pick up further shots at the eighth, ninth and 10th.
"I got it going in the middle of the round there and hit a lot of shots of much better quality than I hit yesterday, so I feel like I definitely improved on that.
"I worked on the range yesterday afternoon to try and work a couple of things out and it felt a little better out there for me today."
McIlroy broke the course record to snatch a maiden PGA Tour title in this event in 2010, before going even lower on his way to a seven-shot victory last May.
Both victories saw McIlroy overturn a large deficit to force his way up the leaderboard over the weekend, with the Northern Irishman now looking for a repeat performance this time around.
"I'm here for the weekend and hopefully I can put together a weekend like I have here in the past," added McIlroy. "I've had a couple of really low weekends here.
"If I can draw on those memories then I can go out and get off to a fast start tomorrow then I'll be right back in the tournament."
On his bogeys at the last two holes, he said: "On 17 it was playing 181 to the pin and it was downwind, but it's hard to get yourself to hit a 9-iron that far [with water short]. I was trying to take a little bit off an 8-iron, and once it got up in the wind it didn't come down forever. Looking back on it that was probably just a regular 9-iron."
Forced to try and hit a cut into the green at the last, he said: "I needed to aim it a little left of the green because of the trees. I was trying to cut it in. It just stayed straight. I didn't hold the clubface open long enough for impact. That was a bad swing."
Still, he wasn't pushing any panic buttons, adding: "In 2010 I was nine back or maybe 10 back going into the weekend. Obviously i produced a great weekend there and last year as well, I had a 14-under weekend. I'll need to do something similar this year to try and get another win here at Quail Hollow. But I feel if I can go out tomorrow and shoot something in the mid 60s, I think the weather's supposed to be a little bit better again, maybe not as much wind, so that will give me a good chance going into Sunday."
Rickie Fowler was one of the big movers Friday at the Wells Fargo Championship, firing a four-under 68 alongside McIlroy to move to tied fifth at five under with the likes of Phil Mickelson, three behind leader Andrew Loupe (65-71), who leads by one from Roberto Castro.
"It was nice, we both kind of got things going," Fowler said after the round. "Rory birdied 5 where I didn't get one to go. We kind of started feeding off each other it felt like a little bit, making birdies and kind of getting the round going. It was fun."
If McIlroy and Fowler were happy, Ireland's Lowry and Harrington were not after missing the cut.
Lowry drove the ball very well, missing just one fairway, but he made four bogeys in a one over 73 to miss the one over par cut by two strokes on three over par.
Harrington took six shots too many, adding a 77 to his opening 74 to finish on seven over.
The Dubliner hit just three fairways and a total of 33 putts left him well down the field on the greens.