Sign up for our daily newsletter

Latest news, reviews, analysis and opinion, plus unmissable deals for bunkered subscriptions, events, and our commercial partners.

The final men’s major of the year can be a seriously tough test and that increases the likeliness of extra holes deciding the winner.

Should that be the case though, what is the Open play-off format?

The rules have recently changed to decide who will lift the Claret Jug if the lead is tied by the close of play on Sunday.

• What are the Open Championship cut rules

• What courses are on the Open rota?

The oldest golf tournament in the world has stood the test of time, but the play-off format has had to be reconsidered, undergoing two changes since its inception.

Initially, a next day 18-hole play-off was used at the Open, but in 1989, it adopted a four-hole aggregate-score play-off.

It featured seven times after it was first used in 1989 and took its last spin at the 2015 championship on the Old Course at St Andrews.

Zach Johnson triumphed by edging out Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen, to claim the bumper winner’s prize and etch his name in golf history.

However, during the 2019 Open, the R&A announced another change to the rules, reducing the play-off by one hole.

Here is the current play-off format for the Open…

The current Open play-off format

All golfers who are tied for the lead at the completion of the fourth round will go into a three-hole aggregate-score play-off.

That means whoever has the lowest score at the end of those three holes will be crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year.

If the golfers still cannot be split after that, then they will continue to play on a hole-by-hole basis until a winner is decided.

It’s hard to determine what tee off order is advantageous or not, but to decide who will get the honour, players simply pull numbers from a blind draw.

• The Open: When ‘Terrible Tom’ tamed Troon

• Ivor Robson: I miss the Open enormously

The R&A will decide what holes will make up the play-off on a course-by-course basis, focusing on several factors. That includes issues like crowd control, access for golfers, and the holes being close together. However, the 18th hole will always be involved.

This newest version of the Open play-off format is yet to be used, although it was very close to making an appearance at St Andrews, where Cameron Smith beat Cameron Young by one stroke.

The Open is not the only one of golf’s four major championships to adopt this play-off format, as the PGA Championship also uses a three-hole aggregate-score decider.

It is different from the Masters, though, which has a sudden death play-off, while the US Open has a two-hole aggregate-score play-off.

A brief history of Open play-offs

The Open has been decided by a play-off on 21 occasions – though the first, in 1876 at St Andrews, never actually happened after Bob Martin and Davie Strath had tied on 176.

It seems Strath refused to take part after it was decided he had broken the rules and a decision was too long in coming, so Martin was handed the £10 first prize, with Strath receiving the runner-up pay-out of £5.

According to the Fife Herald at the time: “The links were so crowded by golfers so as to interrupt the play. Often several of the couples had to stand waiting before they could play up to the putting greens. Indeed, to this fact may be traced the unfortunate result of the competition.

“At the close it was found that Davie Strath and Bob Martin had tied at 176, but the former having, it is said, infringed one of the rules by playing before a previous couple had holed out, and striking one of the spectators, objection was lodged and the matter has been referred to the Club Council. The play-off was due to be played on the Monday under protest, but Strath refused to do so, and Martin walked over the course.”

The 21st and most recent Open play-off saw Zach Johnson defeat Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen, also at the Old Course, for the £1.15 million first prize.

1876: Bob Martin beat Davie Strath at St Andrews
1883: Willie Fernie beat Bob Ferguson at Musselburgh
1889: Willie Park Jr beat Andrew Kirkaldy at Musselburgh
1896: Harry Vardon beat JH Taylor at Muirfield
1911: Harry Vardon beat Arnaud Massy at Royal St George’s
1921: Jock Hutchison beat Roger Wethered at St Andrews
1933: Denny Shute beat Craig Wood at St Andrews
1949: Bobby Locke beat Harry Bradshaw at Royal St George’s
1958: Peter Thomson beat Dave Thomas at Royal Lytham & St Annes
1963: Bob Charles beat Phil Rodgers at Royal Lytham & St Annes
1970: Jack Nicklaus beat Doug Sanders at St Andrews
1975: Tom Watson beat Jack Newton at Carnoustie
1989: Mark Calcavecchia beat Greg Norman and Wayne Grady at Royal Troon
1995: John Daly beat Costantino Rocca at St Andrews
1998: Mark O’Meara beat Brian Watts at Royal Birkdale
1999: Paul Lawrie beat Justin Leonard and Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie
2002: Ernie Els beat Stuart Appleby, Steve Elkington and Thomas Levet at Muirfield
2004: Todd Hamilton beat Ernie Els at Royal Troon
2007: Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie
2009: Stewart Cink beat Tom Watson at Turnberry
2015: Zach Johnson beat Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen at St Andrews

More Reads

Image Turnberry green

The bunkered Golf Course Guide - Scotland

Now, with bunkered, you can discover the golf courses Scotland has to offer. Trust us, you will not be disappointed.

Find Courses