Thursday's first-round action was halted because of thunder and lightning and half of the field returned on Friday to complete their opening-18 holes. Twenty-four players could not get their second rounds in and will be back Friday morning to finish the first 36 holes.
Arjun Atwal, the 2002 champion who played with Els in the first two rounds, shot a 2-under 70 and is tied for second place with Jeev Milkha Singh and Simon Yates. The trio is one shot back at 7-under-par 137.
Els started his second round brilliantly with an eagle at his second hole, the 11th at Laguna National Golf and Country Club. The reigning British Open champion holed his third shot from 20 feet at 11 and added two more birdies on his opening nine to reach 7-under par for the tournament.
Els collected birdies at 2 and 4 but stumbled on his way into the clubhouse. He bogeyed the sixth after a poor drive and failed to make birdie from 10 feet at each of his final three holes.
'I hit some good putts earlier in the round but just didn't get the putts right on those last three holes,' said Els. 'I hit a lot of fairways and greens and gave myself a lot of opportunities. I've just got to wait for the putter to get going.'
Els is the hottest golfer in the world right now after sweeping the Hawaiian swing on the PGA Tour. The two-time U.S. Open champion established a PGA Tour record for lowest score in relation to par two weeks ago at the Mercedes Championships and outlasted Aaron Baddeley in a playoff last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Atwal was tied for the lead with Els after the duo bogeyed No. 6 but Atwal missed the green at the eighth and bogeyed that hole to finish one shot behind his playing partner.
'I have good memories of this golf course,' said Atwal, who became the first Indian to win a European Tour event when he titled here last year. 'I am swinging the club a little better than last year and feel comfortable with my swing and that is important. Hopefully I can keep playing the way I have been and give myself a chance on Sunday.'
Singh held a piece of the lead with Els on the back nine but dropped a shot at his 13th to shoot a 1-under 71.
Yates birdied his first three holes and three of his last six to polish off a round of 3-under 69.
'I am pretty happy with the way I am playing,' said Yates. 'There were some tough pin positions out there today so to shoot 69 was good. I am one shot behind Ernie Els, who is obviously the favorite, but it is a good position to head into the third round.'
Gary Murphy is alone in fifth place at 6-under par, followed by Chih-Bing Lam, Thammanoon Srirot, Jyoti Randhawa and Lian-Wei Zhang, who share sixth at minus-5.
China's Liang Wen-Chong became the first player to be disqualified from a European Tour event because he used a non-conforming driver in Friday's second round.
'Liang Wen-Chong was found to be using a driver, a Mizuno 300 SII, that contravened the new rules, which were brought into effect on Jan. 1, 2003. He was unaware of the contravention,' said tournament officials.
Liang's club broke the new rules because his driver produces a spring-like effect that exceeds the new standards issued by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.