Rory McIlroy birdied three of the last four holes on Friday to grab a one-stroke lead after two rounds of the St. Jude Classic.
McIlroy, who missed his last three cuts worldwide, posted a five-under 65 in round two to finish 36 holes at seven-under-par 133.
The reigning U.S. Open champion posted back-to-back rounds in the 60s for just the second time in his last five starts. McIlroy added this tournament to his schedule to get more game reps in, and it has worked as he prepares to defend his major title next week at Olympic Club.
"This is really what I wanted heading into next week," McIlroy admitted. "For the time being, my mind is focused on trying to win this golf tournament and give myself a great chance of that going into the weekend."
He birdied the last to move ahead of three players at the TPC at Southwind.
Jeff Maggert, who shared the first-round lead with John Merrick, managed a two-under 68 to slip into a share of second at minus-six.
Maggert was joined there by J.B. Holmes (64) and Kevin Stadler (65).
Merrick posted a one-under 69 to fall into fifth place at five-under-par 135. He stands alongside Chad Campbell (67) and Kevin Kisner (66).
McIlroy got off to a fast start. He rolled in a seven-footer for birdie on the second and followed with a nine-foot eagle putt on No. 3.
That got him to minus-five and within one of the leaders. After seven straight pars, McIlroy briefly grabbed a piece of the lead with a four-foot birdie putt at the 11th.
McIlroy, who won the Honda Classic earlier this year, stumbled to bogeys on 12 and 13. Both times McIlroy missed the green with his approach and failed to get up and down.
The 23-year-old atoned for those mistakes and then some over the last four holes, starting with a three-footer for birdie on the 15th.
At the par-five 16th, McIlroy needed two putts for birdie from inside four feet to regain a share of the lead. After a nice par save at 17, he moved out in front thanks to a birdie putt from four feet away at the last.
"It was a really, really good round of golf out there today. I saw a lot of positive signs with my ball striking," stated McIlroy. "Hit a lot of good iron shots and drivers. So that was something that I was really working on the last couple of weeks and feels like it's coming together for me."
Maggert had a steady round with three birdies through 16 holes. He faltered to a bogey at the 17th to slip back to minus-six.
Holmes had a stellar front nine. He posted back-to-back birdies from the second. The two-time FBR Open winner poured in four consecutive birdie chances from the sixth to jump to minus-six.
On the back nine, he parred his first five holes. Holmes traded a bogey for a birdie from the 16th to share second.
Stadler, who is winless on the PGA Tour, had three birdies on the front and back nines. He also stumbled to a bogey on the 14th en route to his 65.
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III posted his second straight 68. He shares eighth place with three-time major champion Padraig Harrington (68) and two others.
Dustin Johnson, who is playing his second event after returning from a back injury, also carded a 68 and is tied for 18th minus-two.
Lee Janzen, who won his second U.S. Open title at The Olympic Club, won't return there next week, but will play the weekend at this event despite a second-round 71. He ended 36 holes at one-under-par 139.
NOTES: The cut line fell at two-over-par 142 with 76 players moving on to the weekend...Among those that missed the cut were former major champions Zach Johnson, David Duval, Justin Leonard, Graeme McDowell and David Toms...Last year's champ Harrison Frazar posted a one-over 71, but missed the cut by nine shots.