Area of South Carolina and eastern Georgia, including Augusta, covered by Severe Thunderstorm Watch through 9 p.m. (SPC)

But the change in weather promises a change in course conditions, adding a wrinkle into golf’s “tradition unlike any other.”

With the first round underway, the immediate concern is the potential for severe thunderstorms through this evening. A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect through 9 p.m. for the possibility of large hail (2” or greater in diameter), damaging winds over 70 mph, and dangerous lightning.

Link: Current Augusta radar image

Augusta’s local National Weather Service office in Columbia, SC cautions thunderstorms will develop rapidly this afternoon into this evening and rainfall amounts are forecast to reach 1-2 inches by Friday morning.

The responsible weather system is the same one which produced the tornado outbreak in Dallas Tuesday, but it has weakened and tornadoes are not likely.

Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson walk down a storm debris covered fairway with their caddies Joseph Skovron and Adam Marrow during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Streeter Lecka/GETTY IMAGES)

An overnight thunderstorm caused a gate-opening delay at the 76th Masters Tournament on Wednesday morning. . . .

Cleanup crews were busy on the grounds preparing the course after a storm moved through the Augusta area that brought high winds, heavy rain and hail.

Photo gallery: Augusta National storm damage (

You’ll find few players, though, complaining about the wet conditions.

As well as the greens drain at Augusta National, the rain makes these reputed marble like surfaces play slower, allowing golfers to be more aggressive on putts and approach shots. (On the flip side, wetter conditions mean tee shots get less “roll”, a disadvantage for players with less power)

“As soft as the golf course is, you can fire at a lot of the pins,” said Phil Mickelson. “The green are soft. I don’t want to say they are slow, but it’s just not the same Augusta. It’s wet around the greens, and there’s no fear of the course. You’ve got to attack it this week.”

While some lingering drizzle and fog Friday morning may allow one more day of soft greens, rapid drying is expected heading into the weekend. The forecast for Saturday and Sunday calls for mostly sunny skies and highs in the mid-70s. That should speed up the greens just in time for Sunday’s pivotal closing round.

“There’s so much slope out here, and as we all know, if they get dry conditions, as the week goes on, it’s going to get awfully quick and those putts become even more difficult,” said Tiger Woods.

The azure blue skies and comfortably warm temperature will delight spectactors this weekend, but one of the course’s visual icons will be conspicuously absent: the azaleas.

Writes the Associated Press:

Red, pink and white azaleas that typically are ablaze for the opening round, have lost their bloom or were wilting fast. The beautiful contrast of white against the lush course comes from sand in the bunkers, not dogwoods.

Spring arrived early in many parts of the country this year, and not even Augusta National was immune.

The National Weather Service calculated it was the 4th warmest March on record in Augusta.