On a day that will be best remembered for the worst single round by Tiger Woods in his storied career, an error-riddled 82, Laird used a series of precise approach shots to card a second straight five-under-par 66 at TPC Scottsdale.
Playing in unusually wet conditions more reminiscent of his native Scotland than the Arizona desert, Laird reeled off four birdies in five holes from the 13th before missing a six-foot par-saving putt in semi-darkness at the last.
"The big thing was I drove it well," the three-times winner on the PGA Tour told reporters after posting a 10-under 132 halfway total.
American Daniel Berger (69) was alone in second place on eight-under, while another tour rookie Justin Thomas (68) was next on seven-under.
Woods was in last place on 13-over 155, although 15 players did not complete the round before darkness, so he may yet avoid propping up the field. Phil Mickelson also missed the cut as the event lost its two biggest names.
Laird, 32, said it was a misconception that he was used to playing in rain because he grew up in the homeland of golf. He pointed out that he has lived in the US for 14 years.
"It's always a joke how many times when it rains I get the little phrase 'just like home'," said the man who now lives only a five-minute drive from this week's venue.
"It was a very Scottish day today with the misty drizzle all day. I remember playing in these conditions, but I really haven't played in them much (during) my professional career, so I wouldn't say it's a huge advantage for me anymore.
"It's no coincidence that four birdies in five holes came on the back (nine) when the rain stopped and got a little easier out there (because) that front nine was brutal."
While Laird shined, Woods was poor in every facet of his game, and his chipping was particularly woeful.
"I have to continue with the process," said the 39-year-old, who switched instructors late last year from Sean Foley to Chris Como.
"I have been here before. It wasn't that long ago that I changed my swing with Sean, and I was Player of the Year only a year ago. You've got to keep things in perspective, and sometimes it's difficult to do that."