The topography of this place had long been embroidered into each of the 78 hearts still beating in the third round of the Open. For the penultimate pair, however, it lay before them in the wind and sunshine as a battlefield not just to conquer but to defend – a fastness of their own island. After pounding their first drives, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood marched down the fairway and heard the galleries not so much urging them to succeed as imploring them.
Above, the flags of many nations snapped in the gale. But their compatriots knew that these two – the big yeoman and the jaunty athlete, familiar in their different ways as just the sort of bloke you might find in the local pro's shop – together represented a momentous opportunity for a first home success since Paul Lawrie in 1999. It was Casey who heeded their summons with thrilling alacrity, dashing through the front nine as though leaping into the cockpit of a Spitfire.
By halfway he had already hoarded five birdies and, at 11 under, was breathing down the neck of Louis Oosthuizen. It was sensational, mesmerising stuff, and you could sense a tide of excitement rolling through the galleries, like breakers into the adjacent bay. He could not possibly keep it up, of course, and he had to settle for a back nine of immaculate pars for a round of 67.
If pin positions were more charitable than the previous day, it was still gusting irritably enough to inhibit any such charge from other late starters. Casey alone seemed to have a following wind. Westwood, having started upsides at six under, required seven more shots over the front nine.
Both had enjoyed the benediction of St Andrews the previous day, reaching the sanctuary of the clubhouse before the storm really cracked its cheeks. Both, equally, had arrived in miserable health. It was surprising, in fact, not to see them followed by nurses pushing drip trolleys and bath chairs.
Casey has been on antibiotics for a "croaky" throat and Westwood has been immersing an ankle in an ice machine three times a day. It was pardonable, then, if his putter was looking rusty, shaving the hole in seeking perfectly manageable pars on four and six.
Casey, in contrast, was electrifying from the start. Finding light rough with his drive on the second, he lobbed the ball on to a mound guarding the approach and watched it hesitate before being drawn inexorably to the flag, finally coming to rest barely a foot short. Perhaps sensing the hand of destiny in his first birdie, he soothed another home from 10 feet on the next green and slapped a 50-foot eagle putt on the fifth approximately 49 feet and six inches.
Casey was already within two shots of the lead, on nine under, and on the seventh an artful, chipped approach left him another birdie chance from 15 feet. It needed sculpting, right to left, but weight and control were immaculate: 10 under and Oosthuizen could surely feel his collar hooked. On the ninth Casey tugged again, lagging his eagle putt to a couple of feet. He was out in 31.
As though goaded by his partner, Westwood mustered a birdie on the 10th from the little matter of 60 feet. He grinned sheepishly, retrieved another shot with a cunning, curling putt on the next, and one more with solid work on 14. He was coming right back into the equation on seven under.
Casey appeared to have exhausted the magic for the time being. He caressed a 30-foot birdie putt into the jaws of 13, only to see it lip out, and he suffered the same fate, rather more nervously, with a much shorter one on the next.
With the wind fading out of a cool evening, the return towards the ancient, huddled town seemed pregnant with possibilities. Would Casey falter? Would Westwood sustain his renewed momentum? No, and not quite.
Westwood drove into a bunker on 15 and dropped a shot. And while Casey was exorcising his triple bogey the previous day with an immaculate negotiation of the Road Hole, Westwood had to gulp his way to a brave par. It took a birdie on 18 to complete a round of 71 and restore him to seven under par.
Lest we forget, Casey was perhaps the form player in the world before a rib injury 12 months ago. At 32, equally, his best return in a major for now remains a tie for sixth at Augusta in 2004. With those brawny forearms, he has long been able to punch unbelievable golf shots. To see this out, however, he will need conviction and consistency.
On the final green he missed a straightforward birdie putt, which will perhaps temper his confidence overnight. But there is no mistaking his sense of purpose. Before the tournament he had angrily compared the new tee on the Road Hole to an ugly new conservatory on a Georgian listed building. The Old Course was too precious for that kind of vandalism. And that is precisely why he last night set about ripping it up.