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Friday, 22 March 2019
Thomas Pieters  (Getty Images)
Thomas Pieters (Getty Images)

Thomas Pieters found himself in possession of a one shot lead at the halfway stage of the Maybank Championship after the golf course showed its teeth on Friday.

The big-hitting Belgian carded four birdies and a single bogey in his second round at Saujana Golf and Country Club to move to eight under par.

It had seemed Pieters and his fellow challengers might be fighting for second rather than top spot when overnight co-leader Nacho Elvira opened up a four-stroke lead over the chasing pack early in the afternoon.

But as the wind picked up, the Spaniard dropped three shots in two holes on the back nine to slip to seven under, where he sits alongside Indonesia's Danny Masrin in a tie for the second heading into the weekend.

Ernie Els, David Lipsky, Jazz Janewattananond, Dean Burmester, Paul Peterson, Maximilian Kieffer and Lucas Herbert were another stroke further back on six under.

Afternoon starter Pieters began the day two shots behind first-round leaders Elvira and Marcus Fraser and fell even further off the pace when he carded a bogey at the second.



But he bounced back with a birdie at the short fourth before safely parring his way to the turn.

He started the back nine strongly, firing a birdie at the tenth before taking advantage of the long 13th to get to seven under.

The 2016 Ryder Cup star holed his 12 foot birdie putt at the par three 16th to sign for a second-round 69.

And when Elvira followed up a double bogey on the 14th with a bogey at the 15th, Pieters jumped into the outright lead.

Pieters, who is looking for his first regular European Tour victory since 2016, said: "I struggled off the tee early on - at the end it was a lot better.



"It didn't feel like a good day to me, 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.

"I birdied the 16th, the par three, it was a nice putt."

With none of Friday's early starters able to match the overnight leaders' seven under par total and Fraser surrendering a double bogey early in his second round, Elvira found himself alone at the summit before he had even teed off.

And he extended his lead at the earliest opportunity, firing back to back birdies at the first and second holes to get to nine under.

Elvira was four strokes ahead of the chasing pack shortly after rolling in his six foot birdie putt at the short seventh.

But he dropped a shot at the eighth after missing his par putt from around four feet.

 

He bounced back with a birdie at the tenth from 12 feet but he three putted for a par at the long 13th before carding a double bogey on the 14th after missing the green to the right with his approach shot.

And things went from bad to worse at the 15th when Elvira missed his close-range par putt to slip to seven under before he eventually signed for a 72.

Elvira said: "Overall I'm happy. I'm hitting the ball fine, I'm putting myself in position to find the pins and I'm looking forward to the weekend."

Starting from the tenth tee, Masrin reached the turn in 36 after mixing two birdies with two bogeys.

But a birdie blitz after the turn saw him come home in 32 shots as he put the finishing touches to an impressive 68.

He said: "I'm going to treat this as another golf tournament and not put too much pressure on myself. I’ll go through the same routine, process. The target every day is to cut the lead as much as I can."

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