AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Dark clouds are gathering at Augusta National and it has nothing to do with the LIV Golf and PGA Tour feud, as wild weather rolls in threatening to wreak havoc at the Masters where play gets underway on Thursday.
The dispute between the established PGA Tour and the Saudi-bankrolled LIV was expected to be the storm enveloping the year's first major but all was calm on that front turning over the spotlight to Mother Nature.
Golfers will deal with humid, hot conditions that will see temperatures nudge towards 90 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) during Thursday's opening round while rain and thunderstorms are forecast for Friday.
The weekend will see temperatures plunge into the 40s and heavy rain on Saturday with more showers and cool conditions forecast for Sunday's final round.
"With the weather coming in, nobody knows what's going to happen," said Bubba Watson, a twice Masters champion and one of 18 LIV Golf members in the 88-player field.
The forecast is certainly not good news for Tiger Woods and his surgically rebuilt leg that he nearly lost in a 2021 car crash.
Woods astonished the sporting world when he returned to competitive golf at the Masters last year, making the cut and grinding his way through four rounds.
The five-times Masters champion's leg will be put to the test again on an Augusta National layout he knows better than anyone but is rated one of the more taxing walks in golf and will be more difficult in the challenging conditions.
Asked if he had seen the forecast, Woods was brief.
"Oh, yeah, I've seen it," said the 15-times major winner.
The volatile forecast is going to add another element of unpredictability to a Masters already packed with potential drama.
There are questions over what to expect from the LIV contingent with the circuit having staged only three events so far in 2023, leaving concerns about competitive rust that will be amplified by the stormy weather.
Rain or shine world number one Scottie Scheffler and number two Rory McIlroy will be centre stage as they both try to put their names in the golf books.
Last year Scheffler came to Augusta as the hottest player on the planet and returns in top form with two wins already this season including the Players Championship, looking to become only the fourth player to successfully defend a Masters title.
No player has won the Masters in consecutive years since Tiger Woods accomplished the feat in 2001/02 and prior to that only Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) have pulled off the Augusta double.
Once again, one of the main storylines will be McIlroy, who for the ninth time comes to Augusta National bidding to complete the career Grand Slam by winning golf's four major championships.
For McIlroy, who used a late surge to finish runner-up at last year's Masters -- three shots behind Scheffler -- a win would put him in elite company with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods as the only players to capture all four majors.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Augusta. Editing by Toby Davis)