Rory McIlroy is two shots off the lead held by Corey Conners after the second round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The world number eight carded a 71 to move up to seven under in a less-impressive follow-up to his excellent opening day 66.
Padraig Harrington is seven shots further back on level par after a 74 but Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell both miss the cut on five over.
McIlroy came into Friday's second round in a share of the overnight lead with Canada's Conners.
But the Holywood native opened up with a bogey on the first, before birdies on three, four and six saw him rebound.
A bogey on eight stalled that progress and that was followed by a quieter back nine with a bogey on 13 preceded by a birdie on 12.
"Today was a bit more of a battle but I stayed patient," McIlroy said.
"I picked off three of the par fives, which is good around here. When I put it in trouble I got it out of trouble.
"I hit a few better shots coming down the stretch, but just going to go and work on a couple things here on the range. It could have been the round that I could have shot 74 or 75, I got in with 71 and pretty happy with that."
That leaves him in a tie for third alongside Norway's Viktor Hovland and USA's Lanto Griffin.
Scotland's Martin Laird is one shot ahead of that trio on eight under, one behind Conners who carded a 69 to maintain his strong start at Bay Hill.
Conners, whose sole PGA Tour title to date came in the Valero Texas Open in 2019, managed an eagle on the par-five 16th for the second day running.
"It was really solid today," the world number 60 said. "I didn't hit as many shots close to the hole as I did yesterday, to give myself as many birdie chances, but I was really happy with how I grinded out a bunch of pars today.
"I haven't really been in this position a lot, but I have a lot of confidence in my game and feeling really relaxed the last few days, so try and keep that going.
"I feel like I have a lot of energy, I had an off week last week and really excited for the weekend."
Bryson De Chambeau (six under), Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose (both five under) are also in the top 10 mix.
Harrington, who had opened with a 70 on Thursday, found the going tougher on day two.
The European Ryder Cup captain carded two birdies and four bogeys to slip back to a tie for 38th.
Lowry and McDowell were able to improve on their difficult opening rounds when they had scored a 75 and 79 respectively but it was not enough to make the cut.
Lowry's 74 left him three shots outside the cut mark like McDowell whose 70 was not enough to make the weekend.