U.S. Open playoff rules, format and history

Jun 18, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; USGA flags fly above the 9th green during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 18, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; USGA flags fly above the 9th green during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Here’s what happens if there’s a tie after 72 holes at the U.S. Open.

If The Masters is a tradition unlike any other, the U.S. Open remains the most unique major championship in the world, mainly due to how the tournament is decided if multiple players are tied after 72 holes. In a world of instant gratification, the USGA has remained steadfast in keeping with the tradition of a full 18-hole playoff on the day following the final round of the U.S. Open.

The early years of the U.S. Open followed this same format. However, if there was a tie after the initial 18-hole playoff, yet another 18 holes was played to decide a winner. In the late 1920s, the playoff format was changed to 36 holes — the first 36-hole playoff saw Johnny Farrell defeat Bobby Jones at the 1928 U.S. Open — and if no winner was decided at that point, the players went to a second 36-hole playoff, which actually did happen in 1931 when Billy Burke emerged victorious over George Von Elm in the longest U.S. Open in history.

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The format was changed back to 18 holes in the 1940s and sudden death was introduced in the 1950s, meaning that if the players were tied after the initial 18-hole playoff, they would head back to the first tee until one player came out on top. If more than two competitors make their way into the playoff, a player can be eliminated from the sudden-death portion if he doesn’t shoot as well as his playing partners. This happened at the 1994 U.S. Open when Colin Montgomerie shot 78 while Ernie Els and Loren Roberts both shot 74 in the first 18 holes. Els and Roberts moved onto sudden death and Montgomerie was done for the day.

The sudden-death situation has happened on three times, the first coming in 1990 when Hale Irwin defeated Mike Donald on the first sudden-death playoff hole at Medinah after both had shot 74. There was then the aforementioned playoff in 1994 and the last time the U.S. Open was decided in sudden death was when Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in 19 holes to win his final major championship. 2008 was also the last time the U.S. Open went to a playoff.

Here’s a brief history of playoffs at the U.S. Open.

U.S. Open playoffs

  • 1901: Willie Anderson (85) def. Alex Smith (86)
  • 1903: Willie Anderson (82) def. David Brown (84)
  • 1908: Fred McLeod (77) def. Willie Smith (83)
  • 1910: Alex Smith (71) def. John McDermott (75) & Macdonald Smith (77)
  • 1911: John McDermott (80) def. Mike Brady (82) & George Simpson (85)
  • 1913: Francis Ouimet (72) def. Harry Vardon (77) & Ted Ray (78)
  • 1919: Walter Hagen (77) def. Mike Brady (78)
  • 1923: Bobby Jones (76) def. Bobby Cruickshank (78)
  • 1927: Tommy Armour (76) def. Harry Cooper (79)
  • 1928: Johnny Farrell (70-73) def. Bobby Jones (73-71)
  • 1929: Bobby Jones (72-69) def. Al Espinosa (84-80)
  • 1931: Billy Burke (73-76-77-71) def. George Von Elm (75-74-76-73)
  • 1939: Byron Nelson (68-70) def. Craig Wood (68-73) & Denny Shute (76-x)
  • 1940: Lawson Little (70) def. Gene Sarazen (73)
  • 1946: Lloyd Mangrum (72-72) def. Byron Nelson (72-73) & Vic Ghezzi (72-73)
  • 1947: Lew Worsham (69) def. Sam Snead (70)
  • 1950: Ben Hogan (69) def. Lloyd Mangrum (73) & George Fazio (75)
  • 1955: Jack Fleck (69) def. Ben Hogan (72)
  • 1957: Dick Mayer (72) def. Cary Middlecoff (79)
  • 1962: Jack Nicklaus (71) def. Arnold Palmer (74)
  • 1963: Julius Boros (70) def. Jacky Cupit (73) & Arnold Palmer (76)
  • 1965: Gary Player (71) def. Kel Nagle (74)
  • 1966: Billy Casper (69) def. Arnold Palmer (73)
  • 1971: Lee Trevino (68) def. Jack Nicklaus (71)
  • 1975: Lou Graham (71) def. John Mahaffey (73)
  • 1984: Fuzzy Zoeller (67) def. Greg Norman (75)
  • 1988: Curtis Strange (71) def. Nick Faldo (75)
  • 1990: Hale Irwin (74) def. Mike Donald (74)-Irwin won on first sudden-death playoff hole
  • 1991: Payne Stewart (75) def. Scott Simpson (77)
  • 1994: Ernie Els (74) def. Loren Roberts (74) & Colin Montgomerie (78)-Els won on second sudden-death playoff hole
  • 2001: Retief Goosen (70) def. Mark Brooks (72)
  • 2008: Tiger Woods (71) def. Rocco Mediate (71)-Woods won on first sudden-death playoff hole

Next: Top 10 clutch shots in U.S. Open history

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