McIlroy shot his second straight round of 4-under 68 at Jumeirah Golf Estates, carding five birdies against a single dropped shot. At 8 under, he sits among a tie for fourth at the halfway point of the season finale, four shots behind leader Andy Sullivan.
"Eight under par is a good position going into the weekend and not too far off the lead," McIlroy said. "I'm happy with a couple days' work."
Importantly for McIlroy, none of the three players ahead of him - Sullivan, Emiliano Grillo and Patrick Reed - have a mathematical chance to win the Race to Dubai. McIlroy currently sits two shots ahead of Danny Willett, his closest competitor in the season-long standings, and one shot clear of Justin Rose, who is third in the Race to Dubai and made up some ground with a Friday 66.
The standings, however, remain close. While Rose likely needs to win the event to claim the season-long title, Willett simply needs to beat McIlroy across 72 holes this week in Dubai to hoist the trophy for the first time.
Although McIlroy has a number of scenarios where he could win the Race to Dubai without winning this week's event, he would prefer to take care of business on the course and end a tumultuous season with a highlight.
"I'm treating it like a normal event because I'm just here to win," he said. "I know if I win, then everything else will take care of itself."