Ernie Els birdied his final hole on Friday to maintain a 1-stroke lead through two rounds of the BMW International Open.
Els, who is coming off a tie for sixth at the BMW PGA Championship and a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open in his previous two European Tour starts, used his gain on the 18th hole at Golf Club Gut Larchenhof to post a 3-under- par 69. The reigning Open champion sits at 12-under 132 through 36 holes, one stroke clear of qualifying school graduate Alexander Levy (68) and Matthew Baldwin (69).
"I'm in a nice position obviously," said Els, a 27-time European Tour winner. "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."
Defending champion Danny Willett charged up the leaderboard with a 65, tying the low round of the day and moving into a share of fourth place. He is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of this event and just its third multiple champion.
"Yesterday was a bit hit and miss, a little bit shaky," said the 25-year-old Willett, who has been dealing with a back injury. "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."
Bernd Wiesberger (68) stands alongside the reigning champ at 10-under.
"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," Wiesberger said.
Hometown favorite Martin Kaymer, the 2008 winner of this tournament, carded a 71 and dropped into a share of sixth with Miguel Angel Jimenez (67), Marcel Siem (68), Alexander Noren (71) and Tommy Fleetwood (69) at 9-under.
By the time he went out with the afternoon wave, Els had been overtaken atop the leaderboard by Wiesberger and Willett.
The 43-year-old began his round with five straight pars before picking up a shot at the sixth to join the clubhouse leaders at 10-under. He quickly fell off the pace, however, finding water off the tee at No. 7 and stumbling to a double-bogey 6.
Els recovered with a birdie at the ninth, then turned the trick again at Nos. 11 and 13 to go on top at 11-under. He rolled home a 20-footer for birdie at the 15th, but promptly gave that shot back with a bogey at the next, which cost him the outright lead.
The tie was brief, though, as Els left himself a tap-in birdie at the last, which he executed to move ahead by one.
"There is so much golf to be played," he said. "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."
NOTES: Els is seeking his first European Tour win of the season .. Dustin Johnson shot 71 and dropped into a share of 18th at minus-7 ... The only multiple champions of this event are Thomas Bjorn and Paul Azinger.