(CNN) -- English pair Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood shared the halfway lead at the U.S. Masters with Tiger Woods in a five-strong chasing group just two shots behind.
Poulter shot a four-under 68 and Ryder Cup colleague Westwood 69 for a two-round total of 136 - eight under par at Augusta National.
But Woods remains on course to mark his return to golf in triumph after posting a second round 70.
The world number one is bracketed on 138 with his arch-rival Phil Mickelson, fellow Americans Anthony Kim and Ricky Barnes and KJ Choi of Korea.
PGA champion YE Yang of Korea is a further shot back, with first round leader Fred Couples and fellow American veteran Tom Watson in a tie for ninth with Soren Kjeldsen of Demmark on 141 - three under par.
The day before, in his first competitive start in five months following the scandal over his admitted marital infidelities, Tiger had shot 68 -- his best opening round at the first major tournament of the season.
The world's top player had a streaky start to his second round when he pulled his shot into the trees, but recovered to save par and finished the day well-placed to claim his 15th major.
"I played well all day, I hit a lot of good shots," Woods told reporters. "It was really difficult out there today, really blustery and swirly. It was tough to pick a club."
The 50-year-old Couples -- the 1992 champion -- faded with a 75 on Friday as he dropped four shots in his last five holes, with the pins at Augusta set in more difficult positions than the opening round.
But the big-hitting Woods continued his dominance of the par-five holes as he birdied his second hole, before dropping back to four-under with a bogey at the par-three fourth.
He picked up another shot at the third par-five of the day, the 13th hole, and then another at 15.
That four, which took him to eight-under on the par-five holes for his opening rounds, came after his eagle chip from the back of the green hit a sprinkler head. He drained his birdie attempt from 15 feet.
Woods missed an eight-foot birdie putt at 16, and slid past the hole from a similar distance at 17 before two-putting at the last.
Choi, seeking to become the first Asian to win the Masters, started poorly with two bogeys in his first five holes but bounced back with two birdies on the back nine to sign for a 71.
American Ricky Barnes joined them in third when he matched Woods with a 70.
World No. 7 Poulter set the clubhouse pace after carding a second successive 68, marred by a bogey at his final hole.
World No. 4 Westwood, also seeking his first major title, followed up his opening 67 with a superb beginning to his second round as he eagled the second hole and birdied the next.
The halfway cut fell at two-over 146, meaning that those who missed out on the weekend rounds included 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize, multiple major winners Mark O'Meara and Padraig Harrington, and former British Open winners Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink and David Duval.
Highly-rated young Irishman Rory McIlroy also missed out after continuing his poor year with a 77 that left him five shots over the required mark.
New Zealand's Michael Campbell, the 2005 U.S. Open champion, finished rock-bottom of the 96 starters after adding an 81 to his opening 83.