Masters playoff format ensures high drama

The Masters Tournament is all about tradition – the green jacket and the Champions Dinner come to mind – but there is one aspect where the tournament abandons its old-school feel: playoffs.

The Masters is the only major that employs sudden death to determine a winner in the event of a tie. Sudden-death playoffs used to begin at No. 10, but now the Masters starts them on No. 18. No sudden-death playoff has lasted more than two holes.

Though some purists might prefer a longer format, it’s hard to deny the drama that has accompanied some of the sudden-death playoffs.


Today’s format

In 2004, the format was changed to begin at No. 18, move on to No. 10 if necessary and alternate between the holes until a winner is determined.

First playoff hole: No. 18: In the three playoffs that have begun on No. 18, only one has ended there. Tiger Woods rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to defeat Chris DiMarco in 2005.

Second playoff hole: No. 10: The long par-4 has been the deciding hole four times in Masters playoffs. In recent years, Angel Cabrera and Bubba Watson won on this hole under the current format where playoffs begin at No. 18.


A look back

36 hole

1935: PLAYERS: Gene Sarazen and Craig Wood - Story - Scoreboard

HOW SARAZEN WON: In the tournament’s only 36-hole playoff, Sarazen won by five strokes

OF NOTE: Sarazen made a double eagle on the par-5 15th to tie Wood and force the playoff.


18 hole

1942: PLAYERS: Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan - Story - Scoreboard

HOW NELSON WON: Nelson edged Hogan, 69-70, thanks to a fast start.

OF NOTE: Nelson won his second Masters against good friend and rival Hogan.


1954: PLAYERS: Sam Snead and Ben Hogan - Story - Scoreboard

HOW SNEAD WON: Snead nipped his main rival, 70-71, in a memorable duel thanks in part to a chip-in birdie at No. 10.

OF NOTE: Snead became a three-time Masters champion and Hogan becomes the only player to have lost two playoffs.


1962: PLAYERS: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald - Story - Scoreboard

HOW PALMER WON: Palmer shot 68 to beat Player by three and Finsterwald by nine.

OF NOTE: Palmer claimed his third Masters victory in the tournament’s first three-man playoff.


1966: PLAYERS: Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer - Story - Scoreboard

HOW NICKLAUS WON: Nicklaus posted 70 to edge Jacobs by two shots and Brewer by eight.

OF NOTE: Nicklaus becamethe first champion to successfully defend his Masters title.


1970: PLAYERS: Billy Casper and Gene Littler - Story - Scoreboard

HOW CASPER WON: Casper used a hot putter to shoot 69 and win by five.

OF NOTE: Casper won the Masters in his 14th attempt, a record at the time


Sudden death

1979: PLAYERS: Fuzzy Zoeller, Ed Sneed and Tom Watson - Story - Scoreboard

HOW ZOELLER WON: After all three made pars on No. 10, Zoeller rolled in a short birdie putt on No. 11.

OF NOTE: Zoeller, a first-time competitor, won the Masters in the first sudden-death playoff.


1982: PLAYERS: Craig Stadler and Dan Pohl - Story - Scoreboard

HOW STADLER WON: He made par on No. 10 after Pohl missed his 6-foot par attempt.

OF NOTE: It was the first one-hole playoff in Masters history.


1987: PLAYERS: Larry Mize, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman - Story - Scoreboard

HOW MIZE WON: After Ballesteros was eliminated on the first playoff hole, Mize made a 140-foot pitch shot for birdie on the second playoff hole, No. 11.

OF NOTE: Augusta native Mize was the underdog in this three-man playoff.


1989: PLAYERS: Nick Faldo and Scott Hoch - Story - Scoreboard

HOW FALDO WON: After Hoch missed a 2-foot par putt on the first playoff hole, Faldo made a 25-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole, No. 11.

OF NOTE: Faldo shot 65 in the final round to get in the playoff


1990: PLAYERS: Nick Faldo and Raymond Floyd - Story - Scoreboard

HOW FALDO WON: He made par on the second playoff hole, No. 11, while Floyd found the water.

OF NOTE: Faldo, the only champion to have won two playoffs and the second champion to successfully defend his title, won on No. 11 again.


2003: PLAYERS: Mike Weir and Len Mattiace - Story - Scoreboard

HOW WEIR WON: Mattiace found trouble left of the green and Weir needed only a bogey to win on the first playoff hole, No. 10.

OF NOTE: Weir, the first left-handed champion, got the title in the only playoff to be won with a bogey.


2005: PLAYERS: Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco - Story - Scoreboard

HOW WOODS WON: Birdie on the first playoff hole, No. 18

OF NOTE: In the first sudden-death playoff to begin on No. 18, Woods became a four-time champion.


2009: PLAYERS: Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell - Story - Scoreboard

HOW CABRERA WON: He made a par save from the trees on the first playoff hole, No. 18, and then won on the second playoff hole, No. 10, with par.

OF NOTE: In the first three-man playoff since 1987, he becamethe first South American champion.


2012: PLAYERS: Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen - Story - Scoreboard

HOW WATSON WON: From the right trees, he hit a hook shot that found the green on the second playoff hole, No. 10. He two-putted for par.

OF NOTE: Watson became the third left-handed golfer to win the Masters.


Playoffs at the other majors


The U.S. Open remains the only major championship that uses an 18-hole format to break ties. The oldest American major briefly used a 36-hole format but reverted to the 18-hole format in the late 1930s. Ties after 18 holes were then followed by another 18, but since 1990, when Hale Irwin beat Mike Donald, sudden-death has determined playoff winners in the case of another tie.


Golf’s oldest major championship now uses a four-hole playoff if golfers are tied at the end of regulation. The format was introduced in 1986 and first used in 1989. Previously, British Open playoffs were 36 holes until 1964, then changed to 18 holes until 1986. In 1989, Mark Calcavecchia won the first four-hole playoff against Greg Norman and Wayne Grady.


The PGA changed from match play to stroke play in 1958, and it used an 18-hole playoff to settle ties after 72 holes. The PGA of America decided after its 1976 tournament that it would use the sudden-death format, and in the late 1990s switched to an aggregate three-hole format for its playoffs. Tiger Woods defeated Bob May in 2000 in the first three-hole playoff.