Rules in Focus - Ties

Thomas BjornRules in Focus

Decision on Ties

The importance of determining how a tie is decided was highlighted in August at the 2011 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles where Thomas Bjorn won a marathon five-way play-off. 

Bjorn found himself in the tied situation alongside Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, England’s Mark Foster and South African George Coetzee after completing 72 holes of play.  It took five extra holes to determine the winner and see the Dane lift the coveted trophy.

In both match play and stroke play, a tie can be an acceptable result.  However, more often than not at both professional and club level, it is desirable to have a sole winner. 

Harrington and GarciaIt is essential then that the decision on how to solve a tie is taken in advance of the competition and established in the conditions of the competition so that those participating are fully aware of how the winner will be established.  The manner, day and time of a resolution of a tie is a responsibility of the Committee in charge of the competition under Rule 33-6.   

Ties can be decided in any manner of means - there is no hard or fast rule as to how this is achieved. Depending on the competition format and timescales, the Committee may choose to have a play-off immediately or arrange for the competitors to return at a later time to determine the winner.  However, it is not possible to decide a halved match by stroke play and a stroke play tie cannot be decided by a match.  The play-off must be conducted under the same Rules as the competition itself.

Match Play

Where a match ends all square there should be a hole by hole play-off and the play-off should start on the hole where the match began. In a handicap match, handicap strokes continue to be allowed in the play-off.

Stroke Play

In the case of Bjorn at Gleneagles the tournament’s conditions stipulated that in the event of a tie for first place, there would be a stroke play hole-by-hole play-off to determine the winner, immediately after the score cards had been returned.  In this particular event, the hole that had been pre-selected for the play-off was the 18th hole, and it took five attempts at playing the par 5 for Bjorn to close out the competition.

While one hole can be used for a play-off in a “sudden death” format, it is also permissible to conduct the play-off over 18 holes or a lesser number stipulated by the Committee.  If it is desirable to use this method, it is recommended that any such play-off consists of at least three holes. 

Jean Van de VeldeFor example, at The Open Championship a four-hole play-off is standard procedure in the event of a tie. The winner is the player who scores the lowest score over the four holes. In recent years, Carnoustie has provided two of the most memorable play-offs - in 1999 Jean van de Velde lost out to Paul Lawrie, and Padraig Harrington edged out Sergio Garcia to win the title in 2007.

As the responsibility lies with the Committee in charge to determine how a tie is decided, the method used can vary from event to event.  Unlike The Open Championship, the US Masters Committee stipulates that if there is a tie at the end of the 72 holes for The Masters, all players who are tied enter a hole-by-hole play-off starting on the 18th hole and then playing the 18th and 10th until a winner is found.

The USGA, organisers of the US Open prefer that a tie will be played off over 18 holes on the following day and if this results in a tie again, play will immediately continue hole by hole until a champion is determined.  At the USPGA, the season’s final major, a three-hole play-off is held over specific holes that are selected in advance. 

If a play-off is not feasible, matching score cards is another suitable method of deciding a stroke play tie.  The condition of competition should provide clearly what will happen if the matching of score cards does not provide a winner.  It is common place to match the best score for the last nine holes, last six, last three and finally the 18th hole but if the Committee wish to use another method to match the cards, then this is permissible. 

Bjorn was not the only one to prove successful in a play-off in August.  Mark Calcavecchia clinched his first win on the Champions Tour in the US by winning the first extra hole in a “sudden death” play-off, whilst Keegan Bradley produced some spectacular golf to win his first ever major championship at the US PGA following a play-off with Jason Dufner at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

The recommended methods on how to decide both match play and stroke play ties are contained in Appendix 1, Part C, 11 of the Rules of Golf