Unheralded Queenslander Matthew Guyatt did enough on Friday to maintain his overall lead at the midway point of the Talisker Masters, but tournament drawcards Adam Scott and Ian Poulter are close enough to make their charge over the weekend.
Guyatt added a solid three-under 69 on Friday morning to his superb 65 on the opening day and now finds himself at 10-under overall for the tournament, two shots clear of Kiwi Michael Hendry, with Scott a further stroke adrift in third.
Englishman Ian Poulter is another two shots back at minus five and shares fourth place with Tasmanian Craig Hancock, but the news wasn't so good for fellow European Graeme McDowell.
McDowell couldn't take advantage of a superb eagle-birdie start to the day and eventually signed for a 77, to be four-over for the tournament.
That two-round score of 148 was one shot better than the mark for the halfway cut, with Australian veterans Andre Stolz and Terry Price among the big names who won't feature at Kingston Heath over the weekend.
Guyatt was somewhat fortunate to get out onto the course nice and early, before the powerful southerly breeze reached its strongest gusts.
The 37-year-old picked up four birdies during his opening nine holes to open up a five-shot advantage over the field, but had a couple of problems on his inward nine, keeping his challengers in touch.
Guyatt's two birdies on the way home were offset by a double bogey seven at the par-5 12th and a bogey six at the 14th as the first-round leader had to settle for a round of three under.
Hendry matched that score in the morning, while Scott's two-under 70 in the afternoon was possibly just as impressive and kept him in with a strong chance of claiming his first gold jacket.
Poulter was one player who failed to make use of his morning draw, as the world number 16 had to settle for a level-par 72 as he attempts to become the second person after Greg Norman to defend his Masters title.
The best score of the day came from New South Welshman Matthew Millar, who made seven birdies and two bogeys in an impressive round of 67.
That was two shots better than anyone else could muster on the sandbelt layout and good enough to catapult him up the leaderboard into a share of sixth place alongside Victorian David Bransdon at four under.
Only 17 players will start their round on Saturday in red figures, with local hopes Paul Gow (-3), Richard Green (-1) and amateur Oliver Goss (-1) still in with an outside chance if they can find their best form over the weekend.
But they will have to get their skates on if they are to catch Guyatt, or hold off the expected challenges from the likes of Scott and Poulter.