Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Thomas Pieters made significant moves up the leaderboard on day two at the 81st Masters as first-round star Charley Hoffman came back to the pack.
Fowler fired a best-of-the-round 67 which propelled him into a four-way tie for the halfway lead on four under par, while Garcia and Pieters also broke 70 on another cool and windy day at Augusta National.
Justin Rose is just three off the pace while Rory McIlroy heads into the weekend five strokes behind after grinding out a 73, but defending champion Danny Willett started with a horrific quadruple-bogey and became only the ninth defending champion to miss the cut.
Garcia was steady as a rock in his opening 71, with 17 pars and a lone birdie earning him the only bogey-free round of the day, but he raced out of the blocks on day two with birdies at each of the first three holes.
A poor tee-shot at the fourth halted his progress, although he rolled in another good putt at the ninth to turn in 33 only to give the shot back at the next before he made a mess of the 13th and walked off with a bogey-six.
But he responded with birdies at 15 and 17 to share the clubhouse lead with Hoffman, who got to eight under at the second before sliding back towards the chasing pack with a run of three straight bogeys from the sixth.
Hoffman then started the back nine with two dropped shots to relinquish his outright lead, but he stopped the rot with a birdie at 13 and parred safely in to return a 75 – 10 shots more than he required on day one.
Pieters, who was five under after 10 holes on Thursday before coming home in 40, opened with a bogey but got back on track with birdies at six and nine, and back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14 lifted the Belgian into a share of the lead.
The Ryder Cup sensation looked likely to give one back at the last when he pulled his approach long and left, but a sublime pitch and a nerveless putt scraped a battling par to complete an impressive 68.
But Pieters’ round was surpassed by a flowing Fowler, who made a significant early move when he made a brilliant eagle at the second which he backed up with a birdie at the next.
The young American picked up another shot at the long eighth and a par at nine rounded off an outward 32 before another birdie at 13 lifted him to the top of the leaderboard.
However, an ambitious second at 15 found the water and he was unable to avoid his first blemish of the day, although he responded immediately with a solid tee-shot at 16 and a putt to match.
Fowler shaved the hole for birdie at the last to miss out on the outright lead, and the quartet ended the day two shots clear of William McGirt (73), while Rose dropped out of the tie for fifth with his fourth bogey of the round in the final group of the day.
Rising Spaniard Jon Rahm continued to shine on his Masters debut as he put together a composed four-birdie 70, his only mistake coming when he ran up a double-bogey six at the 10th, and he shares seventh place with Ryan Moore and veteran Fred Couples.
The 57-year-old, champion here in 1992, rolled back the years and made his fifth birdie of the round at 13, although he bogeyed 16 and 17 before almost holing his second to the last and tapping in for a three and a round of 70.
Three-time winner Phil Mickelson delighted his legion of fans when he also got to three under at the 13th, but he bogeyed three of the next four holes to slide to level par along with Augusta specialist Jordan Spieth.
The 2015 champion and two-time runner-up repaired the damage of his opening 75, which included a nine at the 15th, as he birdied two of the last three holes to cap a commendable 69.
McIlroy offset three birdies with as many bogeys in a wayward front nine, and another shot went when he went long at the 12th. But he clawed his way back to parity at 17th, only to hit the pin with his second to the last and he couldn’t get up and down from off the green.
But Willett’s tenure as champion ended with a disappointing 78, which started with an eight, and seven over was one too many to avoid hanging around over the weekend to present the Green Jacket to the 2017 champion.