Electrifying Englishman enjoys a following wind

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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss