Bubba Watson set the Masters alight with five straight birdies on the back nine to open up a three-shot lead at the halfway stage at Augusta.
The 2012 champion set a formidable target at seven under after a spectacular 68 in sunshine and a stiffening breeze.
Australian John Senden also shot 68 to finish four under, one clear of defending champion Adam Scott (72), Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (68), Sweden's Jonas Blixt (71) and 20-year-old American Jordan Spieth (70).
Rory McIlroy parred the last to make the four-over cut with no room to spare after a tough round of 77.
Three-time champion Phil Mickelson added a 73 to his opening 76 to miss the weekend by one.
Also missing the cut were US PGA champion Jason Dufner, last year's runner-up Angel Cabrera, former world number one Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els.
Watson took full advantage of kinder morning conditions to launch his charge before the wind strengthened and dried out the greens.
Starting at three under in a share of second with Scott and Louis Oosthuizen, Watson reached the turn level for the day before the fireworks began on the short 12th.
The left-hander hit a nine iron close and sank the putt for birdie to spark a remarkable run. He was on course to tie the Masters record of seven consecutive birdies, set by Steve Pate (1999) and Tiger Woods (2005), but the streak came to an end with a par at the 17th.
Watson finished with a bogey after missing the 18th green with his approach but put himself in pole position for a second major title.
"It's not science here, it's try to hit the greens," said Watson, who admits the burden of being defending champion last year took its toll as he finished tied 50th.
Scott dropped to level par with bogeys at the first, fourth and fifth but edged back to one under with a birdie on the short 12th. He picked up further shots at the par-five 13th and 15th and made a decent par save on the last after driving into the trees to clinch a share of third.
"It's good to be within shouting distance but it's going to take a big day tomorrow," said Scott.
McIlroy went out in 37, including a double bogey via the trees on the short fourth, and made a second double on the 10th after hitting his second through the green and knocking a scruffy chip back barely onto the green.
More bogeys followed on 11 and 13, where his approach took an unfortunate bounce off a sprinkler head into the azaleas behind the green and he was forced to hack out sideways.
He knocked in a five-footer on 18 to make the cut but will have to beat the biggest comeback after 36 holes if he is to clinch a third major title this weekend - Jack Burke came from a record eight shots behind at halfway to win in 1956.
"It was very frustrating," said McIlroy, who did not realise he needed a par on 18 to make the cut. "I just couldn't get anything to go my way. I'm driving the ball as well as I ever have and that should be giving me opportunities to score a bit better."
Mickelson came to Augusta hoping to join the absent Woods and Arnold Palmer on four Green Jackets, but after missing several events with back and oblique problems this season, the Open champion admitted he was rusty.
The 43-year-old went out in 36 but ran up a triple-bogey at the treacherous short 12th after catching the front bunker off the tee, splashing out into the back bunker with his second and dumping the ball back across the green into the front bunker again for this third. He eventually found the green but two putts from 20 feet gave him a six.
Birdies at 14 and 15 kept Mickelson in the hunt but he dropped another shot at the par-three 16th before finishing birdie, par to miss the cut for the first time since 1997.
"Physically I feel great but I'm not really sharp," said Mickelson, who won the first of his five major titles at Augusta 10 years ago. "I keep making these triples, they're tough to overcome."
Fred Couples, the 54-year-old who won the title in 1992, continued his impressive run at recent Masters and edged to two under with a 71, alongside fellow Americans Jim Furyk (68) and Jimmy Walker, 35, who has won three times on Tour this year.
Couples would become the oldest Masters winner, while Spieth could overtake Woods, who was 21 when he won his first Masters, as the youngest ever champion.
Scottish debutant Stephen Gallacher, 39, and Wales's Jamie Donaldson ended one under to spearhead the race to become the first player from the UK or Ireland to win the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996.
Lee Westwood finished level par, with US Open champion Justin Rose and Ian Poulter at two over.
English amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick, 19, carded 73 to end five over while countryman Garrick Porteous, who was set to turn pro after the tournament, amassed 80 to finish 12 over.