McIlroy birdied his closing two holes in what Mickelson described was an ‘impressive’ back nine display for an eventual round of 67 and move to a share of fourth place at seven under par.
Scotland’s Craig Lee (67) and Spain Rafa Cabrera-Bello (68) head the $2.7m (€2m) event on nine under par and with England’s Danny Willett (63) third on eight under par.
McIlroy is tied with Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez (66) and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn (70).
Mickelson, who fought hard in a round of 70 for a one under par total, now expects the double Major winning McIlroy to have a “good weekend”.
“Rory’s back nine effort was really impressive and that was just a beautiful nine holes of golf,” said Mickelson.
“He’s really striking the ball well and his game looks extremely sharp, while his iron play was so much better today than yesterday but then his driving has been impeccable these two days.”
McIlroy said: “Coming off the last green last year, after 36 holes, I was deflated to say the least. The week didn’t go as how I imagined it or how I planned. It started off with fireworks and ended not so well.
“But it’s so much better this year. I’m happy with how I’m playing. I’m striking the ball really well. I got a few putts to drop on the back nine, which was nice. And yeah, I mean, I feel like if I can keep hitting it the way I have been, I’ve got a great chance to win in this tournament.
“Hopefully, I can keep playing the way I’m playing.”
Michael Hoey has gone back to this week using his 2012 Hassan 11 winning putter to put himself into contention for a fifth Tour success. The Belfast golfer sandwiched an 11th hole birdie among 17 pars for a 71 and move to five under par.
“It’s just felt good using it again this week here in Abu Dhabi,” said Hoey.
Hoey’s four-under par opening two-round effort is the first occasion in five straight appearances in the UAE capital he’s been under par for the first 36 holes.
Paul McGinley spent much of last year focusing on his golf and on the anniversary of his European Ryder Cup captaincy appointment, he battled to identify his two opening round playing partners. It didn’t help that Nike-backed duo of England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen wore exactly the same attire each day.
“The funny thing that there was a few times when Paul said ‘good shot’ to me when it was Thorbjorn who was playing,” smiled Fleetwood.
McGinley added a 72 to his opening 70 to remain at four under par.
Darren Clarke shot a 69 for a one under par tally to join McIlroy, Hoey and McGinley from an Irish starting contingent of 11 to make the level par cut. Among those missing out was Pádraig Harrington (74), and Waterford rookie Kevin Phelan (76).