Pieters takes halfway lead at Maybank Championship

Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand tees off at the 18th hole at the Malaysia Golf Championship 2nd round in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Phoon)
Paul Peterson of the United States plays follows his swing on the 2nd hole at the Malaysia Golf Championship Round 2 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Phoon)
Ernie Els of South Africa play his shot from the bunker on the 17th hole at the Malaysia Golf Championship 2nd round in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Phoon)
Nacho Elvira of Spain tees off at the 2nd hole at the Malaysia Golf Championship 2nd Round in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Phoon)
Thomas Pieters of Belgium play his shot on the 17th hole at the Malaysia Golf Championship 2nd round in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Phoon)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Ernie Els was two shots behind Maybank Championship leader Thomas Pieters on a crowded leaderboard after the second round on Friday.

Els carded a 2-under-par 70 to reach 6 under at the European Tour event.

There were 15 golfers within three shots of Pieters, who was at 8 under overall after a 69 he wasn't pleased with. He bogeyed the par-4 second hole, and made four birdies.

"It didn't feel like a good day to me, I made the best of what I had," the Belgian said. "I gave myself a lot of chances but I couldn't seem to get the ball in the hole.

"When you miss a couple of putts you try to read too much into it. I just put it down, looked once, and gave it a go."

After four birdies and two bogeys in his round, Els felt he has "a chance" to clinch a first victory in almost six years.

"The last four years have been a struggle, so I'm really happy that I'm playing good golf again," he said. "My body feels good and the ball striking is there now.

"On the greens I'm starting to feel really comfortable, so that means I can have a chance again to play with these guys. That's what I want, to feel like I can have a chance playing Saturdays and Sundays."

Overnight leaders Nacho Elvira and Marcus Fraser had vastly different rounds.

Elvira was only one shot off Pieters despite a double bogey for a 72, while Fraser made three double bogeys and fell to 2 under after a 5-over 77.

Elvira was tied for second with Indonesian golfer Danny Masrin, who fired in seven birdies for a 68.

Masrin, ranked 1000th, was trying not to get ahead of himself.

"I don't want to think too much about the scale of the event. This is probably the biggest I have played," Masrin said. "I was able to stay focused, and my game plan, I did that well.

"I'll go through the same routine, the same process. The target every day is to cut the lead as much as I can."

Els was in a crowd of seven at 6 under, along with South African countryman Dean Burmester (70), Americans David Lipsky (66), and Paul Peterson (68), Germany's Maximilian Kieffer (67), Thailand's Jazz Janewattananond (72), and Australian Lucas Herbert (69).

Padraig Harrington made the cut, which was at par, but was at 1 under after a 1-over 73.

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More AP golf: https://apnews.com/apf-Golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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