Angel Cabrera maintained his position as leading European Tour challenger in the 65th Masters tournament, a second round 71 seeing the Argentinian stand only three shots behind leader Chris DiMarco.
The 31 year old from Cordoba, who won the Open de Argentina in Buenos Aires last weekend, could not quite reproduce the fireworks of his opening 66, but his 71 was good enough for a seven under par total of 137.
Cabrera stood alongside David Duval, Steve Stricker, Lee Janzen and Toshi Isawa, the quintet all one shot adrift of Phil Mickelson (69) and Tiger Woods, who cruised into second place with an excellent 66.
The World Number One thrilled the huge galleries at the Augusta National course with eight birdies in total, and at eight under par 136 for the tournament, Woods moved ominously closer to his dream of holding all four of golf’s major titles at the same time.
Unfazed by the hype surrounding Woods, Cabrera continued to impress in this, his second Masters, and indeed produced a run the World Number One would have been proud of when he birdied four holes in a row from the fifth.
However bogeys at the ninth, 12th and 13th took the shine off matters slightly for the Argentinian before he made dinner taste a little sweeter with a birdie three at the 18th to move to seven under par.
Next best European Tour challenger was the 1994 and 1999 champion José Maria Olazábal, who once again showed his love of Augusta National with a 68 to finish on six under par 138. To the turn in level par 36, the Spaniard excelled on the back nine with four birdies in five holes from the 11th to be home in 32.
One shot behind Olazábal were Ernie Els (68) and Darren Clarke, who rekindled his hopes of a first major championship victory with an excellent 67, equalling his best ever round at Augusta. It moved the Ulsterman from a share of 33rd place at the start of the day, right back into contention for the Green Jacket.
Clarke admitted disappointment at only carding level par 72 in the first round’s relatively easy scoring conditions but immediately set about making amends in his second round. In many ways it was simply a case of picking up where he left off the previous night.
The Irishman had claimed one of only nine birdies all day at the 18th for his 72 and when he rolled in a 20 footer at the first - a hole that saw exactly the same short supply of birdies in the first round - he was off and running.
After narrowly missing putts at the third and fourth, Clarke stepped up the pace again from the seventh with four birdies in five holes, including at the 485 yard par four tenth, statistically the hardest hole on the course, and thanks to a shot he described as one of the best of his career.
The Irishman slightly skied his three wood tee shot and needed a five wood for his second, made all the harder by the fact it was from a downhill lie.
But Clarke caught it beautifully and almost holed it, the ball hitting the flagstick and finishing three feet away.
"It was a career five wood," the 32 year old said afterwards. "Any time you shoot 67 at Augusta you've got to be pleased. I hit a lot of good shots and I am very happy with the way I am swinging it.
"My patience has been very good too. More learned people than me have said you have to be patient and that's what I've tried to do.
"I've hit it in the wrong place a few times and paid the penalty, but when you try to go looking for birdies that's when you end up making bogeys, double bogeys or worse."
The birdie run moved the 2000 WGC – Accenture Match Play champion to five under par for the tournament and although he dropped a shot at the short 16th, he showed resilience to pick it back up at the next before carding a par four at the 18th to finish.
Playing with Clarke was Miguel Angel Jiménez, but the Spaniard did not enjoy the same good fortune as his partner, having to content himself with a level par second round of 72 to give him a four under par halfway total of 140.
But all eyes on the second day were on Woods and the World Number One did not disappoint. Starting the day at two under par, the 25 year old American moved to five under when he reached the turn in 33 and birdies at the 13th, 15th, 17th and 18th helped him move ominously into contention. His rounds of 70-66 also emulated the start he made in 1997 when he won the Masters for the first time.
Woods said: "I took advantage of situations today and made some good putts. I three-putted twice, but made my share.
"I kept my approach shots below the hole and that's the key round here. Putting is so demanding - you can have a ten foot putt with three feet of break on it and that's just not normal.
"I'm pleased with where I'm at. At eight under you can't really complain and in a major it's not bad. I'm right up there in the ball game and in with a great chance."
Leader DiMarco defied the critics who predicted he would fold under the pressure of carrying the first round lead, carding a second round 69 for a ten under par total of 134 and a two shot advantage over Woods.
The 32 year old American, on his Masters debut, holed from 30 feet for birdie at the 12th, two putted for another birdie at the 15th and holed a brave ten footer at the last to save par.
But while it was continued joy for DiMarco, there was despair for a number of European Tour contenders who failed to make the cut which fell at one over par.
Amongst the notable names to depart early were former champions Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle, while Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie, Sergio Garcia and Pierre Fulke, the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit, also packed their bags for home.
But perhaps the most disappointing exit was reserved for Thomas Björn. The Dane looked to be comfortably heading for the weekend when he stood at three under par after 15 holes but he stumbled to a horror triple bogey six at the 16th and a double bogey six at the last to miss the cut by a solitary shot.