RORY McILROY shot a second-round 65 to give himself a chance of winning the first trophy of a forgettable year at the Emirates Australian Open.
The Northern Irishman will want to put 2013 to bed after an alarming loss of form cost him the world number one spot, but he could at least end it on a high.
He trails home favourite Adam Scott by two shots at the midway point at the Royal Sydney Golf club after a fine round which contained nine birdies.
The overall leaderboard was also affected by Scott failing to seriously follow up his course-record 62 from day one, but McIlroy will not worry about that.
He may well kick himself about a 17th-hole bogey but the fact that he recovered to birdie the last suggests he is in good shape.
"When you see someone like that (Scott) at the top of the leaderboard already with a low score, it's tough not to think about it," said McIlroy.
"It's tough not to sort of press the issue and try and make birdies to catch up with them right away but golf tournaments are long, they're four days, 72 holes and there's a lot of time to chip away at those leads."
McIlroy's bad year has been well covered but he insists he has long felt back on track.
"I feel like I'm playing well. I'm hitting the ball well off the tee and giving myself plenty of chances. It was good to see a few more putts go in today," he added.
"As I've said for the last few weeks, the game is feeling much better and I'm much more comfortable with it."
Scott was always unlikely to match his brilliant opening-day score, but he could have wished for a more consistent round.
Gunning for the 'Aussie treble' of this tournament to go alongside his Australian PGA and Australian Masters titles, Scott signed for seven birdies, three bogeys and one double-bogey on an up and down afternoon.
In close attendance at the top of the leaderboard is Richard Green who rests on nine under par overall, with Friday's round of 66 including a hole-in-one on the sixth.
"That shot on the par-three sixth today was a flush golf shot. It's nice to build a bit of confidence from hitting good shots again," said Green.
"I love coming to Royal Sydney. It's my favourite course up here. I've done well here before. It fits my game, how far I hit the golf ball at least."
Matthew Jones trails by a shot in fourth, with four more players on six under, among them amateur Bradley Watt.