Defending champion Rhys Davies shot a 70 to share the halfway lead at six under in the Trophee Hassan in Morocco.
Last year's win was Davies's first European Tour title but his best finish in five events in 2011 is 61st.
He carded two birdies in round two on the Ocean course, while Darren Clarke posted a round of 69 on the Royal course and is one stroke adrift.
First-day leader Peter Lawrie followed a 64 with a 76 and David Howell missed the cut after a 76 left him four over.
Howell moved into the world top 10 in 2006 after winning the prestigious Champions Trophy, beating Tiger Woods in the process, and adding the BMW Championship at Wentworth.
But a back injury curtailed his season and he has not won a tournament since.
The 35-year-old began the week with a level-par 72 but carded two double bogeys to miss the cut by two shots.
After two eagles and four birdies in a course record in round one at the Royal, Lawrie found the Ocean a much tougher proposition, failing to make a birdie and running up a double bogey and three bogeys.
Reflecting on his strong performance, Welshman Davies said: "I'm not feeling any pressure despite being defending champion this week. It's a different golf course for one and I just feel very relaxed.
"I've been working hard on my swing with my coach, trying to match up my arm swing with my body swing, and it's getting there. The hard work is starting to come off. It's quite hard to do it in this wind though."
Dutchman Joost Luiten produced seven birdies for a 69 to share the overall lead with Davies.
"I was good on the back nine with four birdies so that kept me going," he said.
"It was tough today, really tough, especially on the front nine. The holes coming into the wind are very tricky.
"On the back nine the wind was less but there are some really tricky pin positions, so overall it was a pretty hard day and you needed to be very straight off the tee. I'm pleased with the score I've come away with."