Ernie Els (Getty Images)
Ernie Els overcame a double bogey to retain his one shot lead at the halfway stage of the BMW International Open at Golfclub München Eichenried.
The South African had opened with a brilliant 63 in Munich, but found the going tougher as he ground out a three under par 69 on day two.
That took The Open Champion to 12 under par for the week; one clear of England’s Matthew Baldwin and France’s Alexander Levy.
Els began his day with five straight pars before picking up a shot at the sixth, but ran up a six at the par four next after finding water from the tee.
The 43 year old, who had been dislodged at the top of the leaderboard by Bernd Wiesberger and Danny Willett before teeing off, then reeled off four birdies in his next six holes to reclaim top spot - the highlight a 20 foot putt on the 15th.
A bogey at the short 16th cost Els the outright lead, but that disappointment was short lived as he left himself a tap-in for birdie at the long 18th.
“I’m in a nice position obviously,” he said. “I think it's going to play a little tougher over the weekend. It's getting a little bit firmer but I would like to swing a little better tomorrow, but I'm in a really nice position.
“I’m quite fortunate to be where I am. I didn't play as good today as I did yesterday obviously. I fought hard for a score today and satisfied with that.
“There is so much golf to be played. If you fall out of the lead, if you're not leading after three rounds, it doesn't really mean much at all late Sunday. So you just want to stay in the race and keep trying to go forward.”
Baldwin and Levy have just four top ten finishes between them, with Baldwin’s recent fifth in Morocco a best finish on The European Tour for the former Challenge Tour winner.
“Just to stay patient and self talk is a big point for me,” he revealed. “I sometimes get down on myself, so stay positive and stay patient.
“Stay patient and let the chances come and we'll see what happens.”
Qualifying School graduate Levy has yet to finish better than tenth in his rookie season, but the 22 year old sees nothing to fear in chasing down a four-time Major winner at the top of the leaderboard.
“I'm very happy to play this one today,” he said. “I missed a few shots off the tee but I take a good time on the course and I played very, very well today and I'm very happy.
“I stayed very patient, because two weeks ago, I played well in Austria, but the second round I missed a few shots and I didn't play very well the second round, and today I'm very happy to play well today.
“I take a few experiences, and it's nice to progress on that and to play like that with the experience.
“It's positive. I've just got to play my golf and take a lot of good time on the course, and we'll see what happens.”
Earlier defending champion Willett showed no signs of relinquishing his crown without a fight as the Englishman carded a second round 65 to reach ten under par.
The 25 year old started on the tenth at Golfclub München Eichenried, and birdied the 11th and 12th to turn in 34, before picking up further shots at the first and fourth, holing a 12 footer at the fifth, hitting his tee shot to ten feet at the eighth and completing his scoring with a routine birdie at the ninth.
“It was good,” said Willett, whose season to date has been disrupted by a back injury. “Yesterday was a bit hit and miss, a little bit shaky. I haven't played a lot of tournament golf in the last 14 weeks, so it was a bit rusty, and today hit some proper golf shots again and I played really nicely.
“It's good to put yourself in a position. Obviously Ernie [Els] has got a round to go and a few other guys at seven, eight under par, so it will be interesting at the end of the day.
“It is a birdie-fest out here and people make a lot of putts and stuff. If you can just keep hitting it inside 20 feet, 15 feet, you are going to hole your fair share. We had some good numbers, played the par fives pretty nicely - it's just been pretty good all the way around.
“First time coming back to a tournament defending champion is always nice, obviously different golf course but still the same atmosphere and it's BMW's 25th anniversary, so it's a nice event this year.”
Austrian Wiesberger progressed with a four under par 68, mixing seven birdies with three bogeys - the highlight an approach to two feet at the fifth.
He said: “Obviously I’m happy, I got myself back into contention again and up the leaderboard, so very happy to see that after a couple of hiccups during the round.
“All in all, I like the way I hit the ball. I like the way I executed my chances when I had them, so pleased with my game overall.”
Former US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer, his German compatriot Marcel Siem, Sweden’s Alex Noren, former Challenge Tour Number One Tommy Fleetwood and The European Tour’s oldest winner Miguel Angel Jiménez all finished the day tied for sixth on nine under - just three behind Els.