Best golfers in the world are made mortal by Royal Birkdale's ever-changing conditions

"If the ducks are walking,” observed Dave Stockton, the former US Ryder Cup captain, “you know it’s too windy to be playing golf.” Conditions here on Friday were, to be sure, propitious for the local mallard population: heavy, glowering, saturating. At times, Jordan Spieth must have felt like he had just stepped inside a car wash.

Billowing gusts, then a cloudburst – such are the dubious pleasures of a trip to the Southport seaside in July. Not that this discouraged the punters, who lined the 11th fairway eight-deep in ghoulish anticipation of the mayhem to come.

It is on days like these that the Open’s essence is distilled. For all that Tiger Woods’ three triumphs are inscribed in the memory, the image of him thrashing around in the Muirfield cabbage in 2002, face scrunched up in torment, lingers just as stubbornly. Golf fans typically do not congregate out of tribal loyalty. They unite...