What Is the US Open Playoff Format?

What happens when the US Open is tied after 72 holes

Tiger Woods celebrates making putt that forced a playoff at the 2008 US Open
Tiger Woods got pretty excited when he made a putt to force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open (Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in that playoff). Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. Open is a 72-hole golf tournament. But what happens if two or more golfers are tied for the lead after four rounds of play? Those golfers come back the following day and play another 18 holes to settle the tie - an 18-hole playoff.

The Current US Open Playoff Format

Once upon a time, all four of the professional majors in men's golf used 18-hole (or longer) playoffs. Over the years, the other three - The Masters, British Open and PGA Championship - have done away with the 18-holer and switched to shorter playoff formats.

But the USGA still sticks with the extra day of play. The current U.S. Open playoff format is this:

  • Golfers tied for the lead following 72 holes of play return the following day and play another round (18 holes). The leader at the conclusion of the extra 18 holes is the winner.
  • If two or more golfers are still tied following the 18-hole playoff, they immediately continue into a sudden-death playoff, playing until one of the participants wins a hole. The first golfer to win a hole wins the playoff and the tournament.

Which holes are used in the event the 18-hole playoff continues into sudden-death is determined annually, based on the golf course being played.

As noted, the other three men's majors switched to other playoff formats years ago. The USGA also converted the U.S. Women's Open from an 18-hole playoff to a 3-hole, aggregate-score format (first used in 2011), leaving only the U.S. Open with an 18-hole playoff.

How the US Open Playoff Format Evolved

The U.S. Open playoff format has changed a few times through the years. In the early years of the tournament - late 1800s, early 1900s - an 18-hole playoff was used. But if the participants were still tied after that extra 18, they played another 18 holes. This resulted in some playoffs going 36 holes (first 18, still tied, so another 18), which first occurred at the 1925 U.S. Open.

Then the USGA switched to a 36-hole playoff by design. That was first used at the 1928 U.S. Open. But following what happened at the 1931 tournament - explained below - the USGA switched back to an 18-hole format in 1932 forward. However, they kept the proviso that if the golfers were still tied, they played a second 18.

Sudden-death didn't enter the picture for the first time until the 1990 U.S. Open, which brings us up to the format as it exists today: An 18-hole playoff; if the golfers are still tied after that, sudden death holes.

That Time the US Open Playoff Lasted 72 Holes

So what happened at the 1931 U.S. Open? As noted, the USGA began using a 36-hole format (18 holes in the morning, another 18 in the afternoon) in the mid-1920s. But if the golfers were still tied after that 36 holes? They played another 36-hole playoff.

And it actually happened once, at the 1931 tournament. That year, playoff participants Billy Burke and George Von Elm wound up playing a 72-hole playoff. A 72-hole playoff that followed a 72-hole tournament - 144 holes in all that year. See our 1931 U.S. Open recap for the details.

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