Maybank Championship: Thomas Pieters leads, Ernie Els only two back
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 22/03/19 2:05pm
Thomas Pieters hit back from an early error to snatch the halfway lead ahead of a faltering Nacho Elvira at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia.
Pieters defied the sweltering heat and strengthening winds in the afternoon to fire a three-under 69 which lifted him to eight under and one ahead of Elvira, who moved four shots clear of the field heading into the back nine before dropping three strokes in two holes.
Veteran South African Ernie Els heads into the weekend just two off the pace after he carded a 70, while defending champion Shubshankar Sharma is nicely placed at five under, along with last week's Kenya Open winner, Guido Migliozzi.
Pieters eagled the first hole on Thursday, but he managed only a par to start his second round before a mistake at the second was repaired as he birdied the short fourth for the second day running.
The 2016 Ryder Cup star picked up further shots at 10, 13 and 16, although he was again unable to take advantage of a par-five at the last as he settled for an inward 33, a 69 and the outright lead after 36 holes.
"I struggled off the tee early on, at the end it was a lot better but it didn't feel like a good day to me," said Pieters. "I made the best of what I had. I gave myself a lot of chances but I couldn't seem to get the ball in the hole. Other than a nice putt at 16, I felt like I was missing putts all over."
Pieters has also attracted attention this week for having a 'for sale' sign on his golf bag in the hope of attracting new sponsors, and he is claiming credit for the idea.
"My brother has a creative company, but it was actually my idea," he added. "I thought, 'why not, it's empty'. I thought it was quite funny, and it got picked up this week. A few people were talking about it, and if Eddie Pepperell wants to put his face on it, I will happily take it."
Elvira had been riding high on 10 under with just five holes of his second round remaining, but he made a mess of the 14th after a wayward approach led to a double-bogey, and he missed a short putt for par on the next green as he ended the day in a tie for second with Danny Masrin.
Els, meanwhile, kept himself in the hunt for a first victory for almost six years as he made three birdies in five holes on the back nine before a late mistake at the 17th ended his bid for a share of the halfway lead.
"The last four years have been a real struggle, so I'm really happy that I'm playing good golf again," said the four-time major winner. "My body feels good and the ball-striking is there now, and 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 and that's kind of my goal. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and eliminate the little mistakes."