Overnight storm forces Augusta National clean-up

By Simon Evans

The Augusta area was hit with thunder, lightning, heavy rain and hail overnight while gusty winds sent twigs and pine needles on to the course that will play host to the year's first major.

"We lost several trees around the golf course, none of which were significant in the context that they will impact the competition," said Augusta National chairman Billy Payne.

"Debris was all around; took hours and hours, and the cleanup remains ongoing."

Spectators were allowed into the course Wednesday after a 40-minute delay.

"We had 1.4 inches of rain on the course. We have currently extremely wet conditions. We had our restroom at number 16 tee struck by a falling tree, significant damage. We hope to have it rebuilt and up and running by the end of the day," said Payne.

"Several of our bunkers were completely washed out. We expect them to be fully restored to competitive conditions by the end of the day."

The weather forecast for Thursday's opening round predicts a 70 percent chance of rain with thunderstorms likely, especially in the afternoon and evening.

With some players, including Woods, complaining about muddy balls and wet conditions likely for some of the April 5-8 event, the organizers have the option of allowing players to 'lift, clean and place' their ball.

But Payne said Augusta National would be reluctant to go down that path.

"We surely would not want to have to do that. That would be a decision very difficult to make," said Payne. "However, we are also bright enough to know that weather conditions can have an impact on that, and possibly cause us to change our minds on that issue."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)