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A playoff in the sport of golf is an extra hole, or holes, played when, at the completion of regulation play in a competition or tournament, there is a tie and it is desirable to determine an outright winner.
Playoffs are a common occurrence in professional tournaments when the players are readily available to participate at the completion of normal play. However, in most[which?] amateur tournaments, and particularly in club competitions, that is not the case and other methods may be used to determine the winner, such as scorecard count back, whereby the player with the lowest cumulative score over the last 18, 9, 6, 3 or 1 hole(s) is declared the winner.
There are three types of playoff that are used in golf tournaments. They are a full 18-hole playoff, sudden death, and an aggregate playoff. The first is normally scheduled for the following day, whereas both the others are usually played directly after completion of the final round.
Sudden death is the most common playoff format in stroke play tournaments and even more so in match play tournaments. The tied participants play one extra hole at a time, with those still tied for the lowest score moving on to the next hole until a winner has been determined. All regular PGA Tour and European Tour tournaments use this system (except for The Players Championship starting in 2014), as does the Masters Tournament. The PGA Championship also used the sudden death format from 1977 to 1999. A player who wins in matchplay after n playoff holes is said to have won "at the (18+n)th hole" — or "(36+n)th hole" in the increasingly rare case of a 36-hole match.
Many supporters, including veteran golfer Kenny Perry, support this type of play, feeling that it is best to let momentum decide the match. Tiger Woods, when interviewed immediately after his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines, stated that "as a player who's playing well, you want to go more holes. The better player usually wins in more holes. That's how I've always approached it. The more holes you give me, if I'm playing well, I want more holes. Not just one hole, or even three." Others, such as professional golfer Chris DiMarco, claim that it is not fair to gruel through 72 holes and lose the tournament on one bad swing in sudden death.
The 18-hole playoff is the oldest playoff format in strokeplay tournaments. The tied players return the next day to play another round of 18 holes, and the player with the lowest score is declared the winner. Should there still be a tie after the 18 holes, then sudden death is normally played.
The men's U.S. Open is the only major tournament that still uses this method of breaking a tie. However, all the men's major championships used it at one time; The Open Championship (British Open) until 1985 (changed to four-hole aggregate, first used in 1989), the PGA Championship until 1976 (changed to sudden death, first used in 1977; then to a three-hole aggregate in 2000), and the Masters Tournament until 1976 (the first sudden-death playoff was in 1979) Indeed, the first playoff in The Masters in 1935 was contested over 36 holes, when Gene Sarazen overcame Craig Wood. The U.S. Women's Open also used this format until 2007.
An aggregate playoff consists of a series of extra holes, usually three or four, with the player with the lowest cumulative score being declared the winner. If there is still a tie after completion of these holes, then further sudden death holes are usually played. This is widely considered to be the fairest way of deciding a winner, as one bad shot does not eliminate all chances of winning, and is used in two of the four men's major championships. One flaw of this system is that it takes longer to complete, meaning that a tournament may risk not being over before sunset.
The Open Championship was the first major tournament to use the aggregate playoff system when a 4-hole playoff was introduced in 1985. However it was not invoked until Mark Calcavecchia, Greg Norman and Wayne Grady tied at Royal Troon in 1989. Calcavecchia came out on top to win his only major title. Since 2000, the PGA Championship has made use of a 3-hole playoff, having previously used sudden death. The U.S. Senior Open is also decided by means of a 3-hole playoff, as is the U.S. Women's Open, having previously used an 18-hole playoff until 2007. Three-hole playoffs were expected to be used in the 2016 Summer Olympics if there were a tie in medal positions, but were not necessary.