What Is The Open Championship Playoff Format?

What happens if two or more players are tied after 72 holes in The Open and a playoff is required? Find out here

The Claret Jug is displayed during previews for The 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Open is the game's oldest Major, first played in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast in Scotland. Willie Park Sr. won the inaugural edition to claim the Challenge Belt, while Cameron Smith produced a comeback for the ages to deny Rory McIlroy and lift the Claret Jug in St Andrews last year.

Given the championship's long and storied history, there have been a fair few playoffs - 21 to be precise - but what is The Open playoff format?

Believe it or not, the first 10 Open playoffs from 1876 to 1973 were held over 36 holes. The next two in 1970 and 1975 were 18-hole playoffs before the R&A changed the format ahead of the 1986 edition.

Since then, every Open playoff has taken place over four holes. If players remain tied at the end of that, it becomes sudden death over the 18th hole until a winner emerges. Mark Calcavecchia was the first to lift the Claret Jug after a four-hole playoff when he defeated Greg Norman and Wayne Grady in 1989 at Royal Troon.

The format is at the discretion of the Open Championships Committee. Had there been a tie in 2019 and 2021, for example, a three-hole playoff would have been how the winner would have been determined given the routing of Royal Portrush and Royal St George's.

For this year at Royal Liverpool, a four-hole playoff will be in operation. Should there be a tie after 72 holes, players will head to the 3rd and then the 16th, 17th and 18th.

Things you didn't know about The Open

If the playoff involves more than two players, those other than the winner will be deemed to have tied for second place regardless of their scores in the playoff.

There have been some notable playoffs in the past. In 1999, Paul Lawrie won The Open at Carnoustie following a four-hole playoff with Justin Leonard and Jean van de Velde. The Scot shot even par, while the other two were both three-over.

In 2007, Padraig Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in a four-hole playoff to win his first Claret Jug - he shot level compared to Garcia's one-over and, just a couple of years later, Stewart Cink triumphed over Tom Watson at Turnberry.

The most recent playoff took place at St Andrews in 2015, when Zach Johnson beat Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.

Matt Cradock
Staff Writer

Matt joined Golf Monthly in February 2021 covering weekend news, before also transitioning to equipment and testing. After freelancing for Golf Monthly and The PGA for 18 months, he was offered a full-time position at the company in October 2022 and continues to cover weekend news and social media, as well as help look after Golf Monthly’s many buyers’ guides and equipment reviews.

Taking up the game when he was just seven years of age, Matt made it into his county squad just a year later and continues to play the game at a high standard, with a handicap of around 2-4. To date, his best round came in 2016, where he shot a six-under-par 66 having been seven-under through nine holes. He currently plays at Witney Lakes in Oxfordshire and his favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.

Matt’s current What’s In The Bag?

Driver: Honma TW747, 8.75°

Fairway Wood: TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2, 15°, 19°

Hybrid: Adams Super Hybrid, 22°

Irons: Mizuno MP54, 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0 Tour Satin, 50°, 56°, 60°

Putter: Cleveland TFI 2135 Satin Cero

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x