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Masters 2012 Preview: One Natural Element Absent This Weekend

Few sights in sports rival that of the Augusta National golf course -- the annual home to the Masters -- but one natural element will be missing this week when play kicks off at golf's most prestigious event.

Due to an unseasonably warm winter and early spring across the country, the normally colorful course has largely fallen victim to early blooms. Most notably, the 13th hole, which typically showcases a spectacular array of colors from the roughly 1,600 Azalea bushes around it, will look far more green than players and viewers of the early-April tournament are accustomed to.

In fact, only a dozen or so bushes remain in bloom around the green on the 13th hole, a far cry from the normally full bloom seen each year around the hole.

Defending champion Charl Schwartzel says he saw the flowers, "But it was last week. I was a here a week ago last Thursday, and they were beautiful. But the first thing I thought was, 'They're all going to be gone.' I thought Augusta would be able to do something -- get the fans on them or something. It's weird."

The lack of color won't prevent the tournament from its usual dramatic thrills or quality golf, and anticipation is sky high with Rory McIlroy ready to continue building his legacy and Tiger Woods seemingly back to his winning ways.

Opening-round play begins on Thursday, with coverage on ESPN.

For more on the 2012 Masters be sure to stay tuned to this StoryStream. For more on Golf in general check out SB Nation's golf blog Waggle Room and SB Nation's dedicated golf hub.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.