Laird, who has finished in the top 10 on the PGA Tour three times this year, shot a 7-under 65 at the Bay Hill Resort and Spa to produce a 9-under 135 total at the tournament's midway point.
First-round leader Spencer Levin shared second place with K.J. Choi at 136. Choi turned in the low round of the tournament, a 64.
Tiger Woods, who has won the event six times, jumped into a tie for 10th place at 141 after shooting a 68. Woods is looking for his first win since the 2009 season.
"Unfortunately, I left a lot of putts short," Woods said. "There were about five putts that were dead center. It could have been a pretty special round."
Phil Mickelson made the cut, but struggled to a 3-over 75 that included a triple-bogey at the par-5 sixth hole.
Laird's round was highlighted by a 31-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th. His only victory on the PGA Tour came at the 2009 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Charles Howell III, Steve Marino, Hunter Mahan and Vaughn Taylor shared fourth place at 138.