ABU DHABI • Rory McIlroy's statement of intent, as delivered in his 36th hole of the Abu Dhabi Championship, was worth the wait.
Frustrated by missed earlier chances, he converted from 20ft for an eagle on the 18th.
With a nine-under 135 total, McIlroy is just three from the halfway lead in the Middle East, with the rising standard of his play endorsing the theory of him being the man to beat.
The Northern Irishman is yet to drop a stroke, with yesterday's 66 a three-shot improvement on day one.
Belgian Thomas Pieters, who forged an excellent alliance with McIlroy at the last Ryder Cup, reminded onlookers that he wants to remain part of such a fold by charging to the top of the leaderboard.
He signed for a second-round 65 to lead Jorge Campillo (64) by one.
"The first two days I've been really, really happy with," McIlroy said. "Today was an improvement on yesterday just in terms of scoring. I feel like I hit the ball very similar. I gave myself a lot of chances. I'm right in the mix after two days.
"It was a nice way to finish. It felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was difficult to convert them. I always struggle to read these greens, I feel like I'm hitting good putts and they are just sliding by the edges.
"I feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient and it was nice to finish with a three and get myself into contention for the weekend."
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson's 64 was remarkable given he, like McIlroy, struggled on the greens.
The American is now at eight under with birthday boy Tommy Fleetwood - who turned 27 yesterday and played alongside McIlroy and Johnson - at 10 under after his 68.
ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
Day 3: StarHub Ch204, 4.30pm