McIlroy, who turned 23 on Friday, won his first career PGA Tour event here in 2010 by shooting a final-round 62 and is six under par through 36 holes, six shots behind mid-day leader Nick Watney.
Despite making just one bogey against five birdies, McIlroy wasn't pleased with his ballstriking.
"I haven't felt like I've had anything near my best the last couple days, but I've been able to get it around, and to be six under through two rounds is pretty good, considering the way I've hit the ball," he said. "I just need to do some work this afternoon on the range and see if I can improve that and have a good weekend."
McIlroy started strong on Friday, busting a drive about 70 yards past playing partner David Toms and 40 yards past Jim Furyk on the par-5 10th, his first hole of the day. While Toms and Furyk laid up, McIlroy smashed his approach just left of the green and got up-and-down for an opening birdie.
On the 11th, he stuck his approach 11 feet above the hole and drained the ticklish downhill putt for a second consecutive birdie. On the par-4 16th, McIlroy pushed his wedge shot 21 feet right of the pin and reacted in frustration. Perhaps still upset, he rammed the birdie putt seven feet past the cup, but drilled the comebacker for par. His lone bogey came at the tricky par-4 18th, where he three-putted from 63 feet.
McIlroy finished his round in style with a nine-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, which was just the third birdie of the day on No. 9. "I'm pretty happy with six under," McIlroy said. "It could be better, but I'll take it."
McIlroy hit seven of 14 fairways, took 29 putts and enjoyed a relatively low-stress walk, which was a sharp contrast to one of the players competing in a group directly in front of McIlroy. Tiger Woods played erratically for much of the morning and will likely miss the cut.
But the birthday boy received numerous good wishes from the savvy gallery during his round (he said his plan for tonight is to "just go out for a nice dinner and take it easy"). While walking off the tee on the par-3 second hole, a sprightly young co-ed in a sundress stepped up to the rope line and yelled, "I love you Rory!" but the Irishman didn't even glance her way.
As any past champion at Quail Hollow knows, if you want to win out here, you have to avoid the hazards.
(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)