Augusta National chairman Fred S. Ridley, second from right, pose...

Augusta National chairman Fred S. Ridley, second from right, pose with honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Gary Player on the first hole hole during the first round at the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Augusta, Ga. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Augusta National that Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and the rest of golf's greats played during their practice rounds for the Masters was a bit different than what greeted them Thursday after they drove down Magnolia Lane.

A storm system that raked the southeast with heavy rain, and had been dreaded all week, had tracked to the south and only sideswiped the course. But there was still enough precipitation to soften up, and substantially lengthen, a course that had been playing hard and fast, while wind whipping through the Georgia pines was poised to cause problems.

“Yeah, when the wind is swirling here it's very hard,” said Shane Lowry, who had a later tee time Thursday. “Sounds like it's going to be a tricky Masters and scoring is going to be quite difficult. I don’t mind that. Ready for the challenge.”

Tournament officials were prepared for much worse weather Thursday, telling patrons as early as Wednesday evening the gates would not open on time. They wound up opening at 9:30 a.m. local time, giving patrons 40 minutes to speed walk — running, of course, is strictly forbidden at Augusta National — to get a prime vantage point for the ceremonial first shots.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Gary Player stepped onto the tee box for Tea Olive, the uphill, dogleg right opening hole. And once they struck their shots down the wide first fairway, the tournament was underway.

“The key to this golf course is patience,” said Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion. “It’s just going to be a grinding day. You got to get through the day, be patient and tear it up on the opportunities you get.”

This is the sixth consecutive year that the weather has caused at least some delay during the Masters.

Patrons arrive for the first round during the Masters golf...

Patrons arrive for the first round during the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Augusta, Ga. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

“It will be gusty, for sure,” said National Weather Service forecaster Brad Carlberg, who predicted gusts up to 45 mph into the early evening. “Those wind speeds could easily knock down branches here and there.”

Last year, torrential rains and wind sweeping through the course Friday knocked down three towering pines.

The conclusion of that second round had to be pushed into the weekend, and leaders were still on the course when the third round was suspended Saturday. That produced a marathon final day at Augusta National, where Rahm rallied from a four-shot deficit to Brooks Koepka over the course of 30 holes for a four-shot victory and the green jacket.

At least the storms this year came Thursday, making it easier to make up lost time.

Honorary starter Gary Player hits the ceremonial tee shot on...

Honorary starter Gary Player hits the ceremonial tee shot on the first hole during the first round at the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Augusta, Ga. Credit: AP/George Walker IV

Erik van Rooyen and Jake Knapp were the first competitors off at 10:30 a.m., but most of the heavy hitters had tee times that pushed into the afternoon. Rahm was joined by Matt Fitzpatrick and Nick Dunlap at 1 p.m., and the power trio of 2022 Masters champion and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy followed them off.

Five-time champion Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Max Homa weren't due to begin their rounds until 3:45 p.m., while 2020 champ Dustin Johnson along with Collin Morikawa and Tommy Fleetwood were in the last group at 4:30 p.m.

The delay means those players with late starting times are unlikely to complete their opening rounds before dark. They would need to return early Friday to finish them, then head out for their second rounds after a short break.

The weather this weekend is expected to be warm, dry and ideal.

“Just makes it harder,” Fleetwood said of the changing conditions. “The course is already been playing pretty firm, I think, in practice. The rain might soften it up a little bit. The wind just makes it harder. It swirls so much in these trees and, yeah, the course just hits you hard, really. But no, I look forward to it. Everybody’s got to go out there and play.

"I think, again, it’s a major and a very special one and I think it should test every aspect of your game.”

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