What Is the PGA Championship Playoff Format?

Flags are seen near the range during a practice round prior to the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 10, 2015
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If, when all the golfers at the PGA Championship have completed 72 holes of play, there are two (or more) golfers tied for the lead, how do they break the tie? Those golfers advance into a playoff.

And the current PGA Championship playoff format works like this:

  • The playoff is three holes in length.
  • It is aggregate stroke play (cumulative scoring, in other words);
  • The golfer with the low total score after three holes wins the playoff and the tournament.

The three-hole playoff begins immediately following the end of the fourth round.

In the Event the 3-Hole Playoff Doesn't Produce a Winner

What if, after that three-hole, aggregate-score playoff finishes, two or more golfers are still tied? In that case, the deadlocked golfers continue playing, but switch to a sudden-death format. That means they play another hole and match scores; if one golfer has the lowest score on that hole, he is the tournament winner. If nobody wins the hole, they continue to another. A sudden-death playoff lasts as long as there are golfers who remain tied.

Any golfers in the three-hole playoff who are not tied drop out after the three holes. If there are three golfers in the playoff, for example, and two remain tied following three holes while the third is a stroke behind, that third golfer is eliminated. The two who are tied continue into sudden-death.

How the PGA Championship Playoff Format Has Changed Over Time

The current playoff format was first used at the 2000 PGA Championship, where Tiger Woods beat Bob May in a three-hole playoff.

Prior to adopting the current format, and during the tournament's stroke play era, the PGA of America first used an 18-hole playoff. Any golfers tied for the lead following 72 holes returned the following day and played another full 18 holes of golf. The 18-hole playoff was last used at the 1967 PGA Championship, where Don January defeated Don Massengale for the trophy.

The PGA of America then switched to a sudden-death playoff format. And the first sudden-death playoff in a PGA Championship, which happened at the 1977 PGA, wasn't just the first of that format in this tournament, but in any of the four professional majors. Lanny Wadkins defeated Gene Littler on the third hole.

The sudden-death format was last used at the 1996 PGA Championship, where Mark Brooks beat Kenny Perry on the first extra hole. After that, the PGA switched to the playoff format still in use today: three holes, aggregate scoring.

Results of Stroke-Play Playoffs at the PGA Championship

Here is the list of all PGA Championship playoffs played during the stroke-play era, with winners, losers, scores and playoff format noted:

  • 2011—Keegan Bradley def. Jason Dufner, 10-11 (three holes)
  • 2010—Martin Kaymer def. Bubba Watson, 11-12 (three holes)
  • 2004—Vijay Singh def. Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard (three holes)
  • 2000—Tiger Woods def. Bob May, 12-13 (three holes)
  • 1996—Mark Brooks def. Kenny Perry, first hole (sudden death)
  • 1995—Steve Elkington def. Colin Montgomerie, first hole (sudden death)
  • 1993—Paul Azinger def. Greg Norman, second hole (sudden death)
  • 1987—Larry Nelson def. Lanny Wadkins, first hole (sudden death)
  • 1979—David Graham def. Ben Crenshaw, third hole (sudden death)
  • 1978—John Mahaffey def. Jerry Pate and Tom Watson, second hole (sudden death)
  • 1977—Lanny Wadkins def. Gene Littler, third hole (sudden death)
  • 1967—Don January def. Don Massengale, 69-71 (18 holes)
  • 1961—Jerry Barber def. Don January, 67-68 (18 holes)

What About During the Match Play Era?

Remember that the PGA Championship began as a match play tournament. The match play era lasted from 1916 through 1957. What was the playoff format during that time?

It was simply the typical match play scenario: The two golfers in the championship match (which lasted 36 holes) who were all square after 36 holes just kept playing more holes until one of them won a hole. The first golfer to win one of those "extra holes" won the match and the tournament.