Rory McIlroy played his way back into the mix at the Dubai Desert Classic following a flawless six-under 66 at the Emirates Golf Club.

Beginning the day on one-under following a mixed bag opening round on Thursday, McIlroy was immediately on the move on the first hole of round two, making birdie on the par-four.

Another followed on the fourth as McIlroy parred the remaining holes on the front nine to turn at three-under for the tournament.

McIlroy moved a shot closer to the leaders on the tenth, making a birdie on the par-five, before adding an eagle on the 13th hole to get to six-under.

The four-time major winner then made amends for his bogey on 18 on Thursday by finishing in style with a birdie to get to seven-under par.

That leaves McIlroy in a tie for fifth place, four shots off the current leader Justin Harding, who added a four-under 68 to his first round 65.

McIlroy also let slip a number of opportunities on the layout's new putting surfaces, most notably three-putting from 48 feet after driving the green on the 351-yard second hole.

"Could have been way lower," McIlroy said when asked to assess his score.

"I certainly hit the ball well enough for it to be lower. I missed a few opportunities but with the way these new greens are, they get a bit chewed up in the afternoons and start to wiggle a little bit if there isn’t a lot of speed on them.

"So yeah, I certainly hit the ball as good as I’ve done in a long time, and it could have been a few better but 66 this afternoon is a good score and sets me up for a nice weekend.

"With how I ended last year, I certainly found something, got a bit of momentum. I won on the PGA Tour and had a really good chance to win here in Dubai at the end of last season. It feels good.

"There’s so many ebbs and flows in this game and the career is so long that it’s sort of hard to compare one year to the next and how you’re feeling and how you’re hitting it.

"But I think looking back on my last 12, 14 years or whatever it’s been, the body of work is there, and I’ve played well when I haven’t felt so good and I played poorly when I felt really good.

"It’s just a matter of keep showing up each and every day and try to put the lowest score possible on the scorecard and move on."

Padraig Harrington's recent good form continued as the three-time major winner added a second consecutive two-under 70 in Dubai.

Three birdies and a solitary bogey on the first hole saw the Dubliner move inside the top twenty with many of the afternoon players yet to get going.

Shane Lowry’s round never really got going and the 2019 Open champion had to settle for a two-over 74.

Lowry had a chance to make birdie on the par-five 18th but his green-side chip failed to check enough and raced past the hole, which left a tricky 25-footer to get to level par.

The resulting putt came up just shy of the hole and while Lowry had an anxious wait to see if he was playing at the weekend, the Offaly man made it through on the cut line at one-over.

Jonathan Caldwell missed out on the weekend following a horror-show 81, which included two double-bogeys and four bogeys on the front nine.

Leader Harding is two clear of the field on 11-under, the South African aided by a spectacular eagle from 183 yards on the sixth, his 15th hole of the day.

"It might be the first time I've ever hit the fairway there, it’s a hole that I bail on over the years," Harding said.

"I had a good number which allowed me to pitch it 10 or 15 (yards) short of the hole and the cameraman actually said, 'I like it’. I thought he was joking. It was just a good swing but an added bonus with going in makes up for a couple other things around the golf course."

"At the end of the day, I would have been happy coming in with nine under to be fair. It was a good hard slog, the last couple holes played quite tough with the breeze."

Harding’s nearest challenger on nine under is England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who followed a bogey on the first with four straight birdies and picked up three more shots on the back nine to match McIlroy’s 66.

Hatton finished tied sixth in the defence of his title last week in Abu Dhabi, where he made headlines for admitting he would love the 18th hole at Yas Links to be "blown to oblivion" after making a quadruple-bogey nine in the third round.

The 30-year-old has so far kept his emotions in check in Dubai, but admitted he would have to forgive any "inconsistent" bounces on the new greens.

"I have to try and remember that and try not to be aiming at too many other things and too hard on myself," Hatton said. "That’s something that I’m going to have to do well this weekend.

"There are going to be times where we have some bad phases and it just depends how I manage those, but hopefully I can kind of get myself out and hit good golf shots again."