The Holywood sensation marked the first anniversary of his infamous meltdown by coming back from a sloppy start to add a sizzling 66 to his opening 63 for a one-shot clubhouse lead over Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge on 11 under par.
Now the challenge is to finish the job after failing to take advantage of fast starts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai earlier this year.
Comparing last year’s damp squib to this week’s fireworks, McIlroy said: “It’s a different end of the spectrum, I guess.
“[Last year] I wasn’t quite comfortable with my golf swing. I was still tinkering with equipment. I just wasn’t feeling in control of what I needed to be in control of.
“This year is obviously a lot different. I’ve got off to a good start, I’m confident, I’m playing well.
“This is the second straight tournament I’ve opened with a 63 so if I can keep building on these good starts, then hopefully I can start converting them into wins.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for McIlroy, who started on the back nine and didn’t hit a fairway until the 13th. Poor drives led to bogeys at the 11th and 12th and he had to hole a six-footer for par at the 14th just to avoid going three over for the day.
The save seemed to settle him and he was soon into his stride, making a brilliant birdie from eight feet at the 16th before holing a tricky 12-footer for another at the par-five 18th to get back to level for the day.
With his ball-striking back in the groove at the course where he held off Tiger Woods in 2012 and become world No 1 for the first time, he had just 24 putts and played a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round in six under as he raced home in just 31 blows.
After a hat-trick of birdies from the third, he made a brilliant par save from six feet at the sixth and another birdie from 30 feet at the par-three seventh saw him open up a four-shot lead.
On his tally of just 49 putts for the first two rounds, he said: “I did a little bit of work with Dave Stockton last week which has definitely helped.
“We tweaked a couple of things and all of a sudden yesterday it started to feel very, very comfortable.
“I’m confident and 49 putts is one of the lowest putting totals after 36 I’ve probably had, maybe in my career. So it’s obviously going in the right direction.”
He’s playing so well, he reckons it could be the best golf he’s produced since winning the US PGA and two FedEx Cup events in the space of four weeks nearly 18 months ago.
He said: “I think this is the most comfortable I have felt with all aspects of my game since August 2012 — when I started to get into a couple of bad habits.”
Graeme McDowell knows he has his work cut out after he shot a roller coaster 67 and still found himself eight behind on three under.
After mixing seven birdies with two bogeys and a double bogey, he’s praying that the wind blows at the weekend.
“I was fighting my swing out there today but my short iron play kept me in it, thank goodness, and I made a few putts and hit a few nine-irons and wedges close because by my medium and long iron play is God awful.
“But I hung in and (I’m) happy to be around for the weekend. I’ll need some wind to have a chance to catch whoever it is, whether it be the boy wonder or not.
“He got off to a bad start today and still shot 66. It’s perfect playing conditions for him — soft, ball in hand, suits his great driving, great iron play and the greens are perfect.
“Good playing so far from the boy but obviously I will be trying to go low tomorrow and give myself a chance.”
Woods was just inside the projected cut mark with two holes to play but Pádraig Harrington was a shot outside the mark and three over for the day with six to play.
Darren Clarke was also three over for the day with four to play and 10 over for the tournament.