Danny Willett became the first defending champion to miss the cut in the Masters since 2004 as Sergio Garcia set his sights on an overdue maiden major title at Augusta National.
Willett's second round of 78 started with a demoralising quadruple-bogey eight on the first, but it was ultimately a bogey on the 18th which meant he missed out on the weekend by a single shot.
Garcia, who has recorded 22 top-10 finishes in majors without tasting victory, shared the halfway lead on four under with Ryder Cup team-mate Thomas Pieters, first-round leader Charley Hoffman and Rickie Fowler, whose 67 was the lowest score of another tough day.
But on a star-studded leaderboard, the top 15 players were separated by just five shots and included Olympic champion Justin Rose, the 57-year-old 1992 champion Fred Couples and 22-year-old rising star Jon Rahm on one under.
Jordan Spieth, who carded a quadruple-bogey nine on the 15th in the first round, birdied three of his last six holes to finish level par alongside Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who is seeking to surpass Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion with a fourth victory.
Rory McIlroy was a shot further back in pursuit of the win he needs to complete the career grand slam, with Martin Kaymer another stroke back after following an opening 78 with a 68.
Willett knew he needed some help from the "golfing gods" to avoid suffering the same fate as 2003 champion Mike Weir, but his long wait ultimately proved in vain - although he will stay until Sunday to present his successor with their green jacket.
"It's been a tricky 12 months and we haven't played great golf, but by the same token if you look at the career we've had, we've not really had a slump in form in two years," Willett said.
"We've had two fabulous years and then you have a little bit of a downturn and it feels like the world is coming to an end. Playing Augusta at the weekend would be nice with the (good) weather coming in, but we had that in our own hands and unfortunately we let that slip."
Willett's troubles began when he shanked his second shot on the first from an awkward stance on the edge of a fairway bunker, the world number 17 hitting a good recovery just through the green but then failing to find the putting surface with his next two chips.
"If it goes in the bunker it's not too bad, if it goes a foot right you can get a stance," Willett said. "Where it finished wasn't great and from there it was my own fault. I know you can't miss there (left of the green).
"I played some pretty good golf in the middle there and couldn't hole a bean."
Hoffman could only add a 75 to his brilliant opening 65, while Garcia birdied the first three holes for the first time in 19 visits to Augusta in his 69.
The 37-year-old is playing his 71st consecutive major championship, a streak stretching back to the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
A month later he finished second in the US PGA Championship at the age of 19, but has since recorded a further 21 top-10 finishes without success.
After finishing 12th here in 2012, Garcia even claimed he was not good enough to win a major, but five years later can claim a green jacket on Sunday, which would have been the 60th birthday of two-time champion and fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.
"I was frustrated (in 2012) but I probably didn't accept things as well as I should have," he said. "I've shown myself many times after that I can contend and I truly feel I can not only win one (major) but more than one.
"I feel so fortunate that I have been able to play many majors in a row and given myself a lot of chances. That's already a win and if we can put the cherry on top that would be even better."
McIlroy added a 73 to his opening 72 after a stroke of bad luck on the 18th when his approach clattered into the pin and rebounded 20 yards off the green.
The four-time major winner hit a superb pitch to three feet but missed the par putt to leave himself five shots off the lead.
"These things happen," McIlroy said. "I'm still within five of the lead going into the weekend with better conditions on the way. I still feel like I'm right in this tournament.
"If I can put together a 67 or a 66 on Saturday, I feel like I'll be right in there for Sunday."