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British Open playoff 2023: The format, rules and holes played at Royal Liverpool

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Ross Kinnaird/R&A

With Brian Harman holding a five-shot lead at the start of the final round of the Open Championship, brushing up on how the R&A conducts a playoff in the event of a tie after 72 holes seems potentially superfluous. But in the interest of public service, and with a just-in-case mentality, let’s explore.

The reason the question is relevant is the fact that unlike at a standard PGA Tour event, the Open Championship playoff isn’t a sudden-death contest. Instead, the R&A employs a four-hole aggregate-score playoff to determine who will claim the claret jug. All those players who are tied will play the third, 16th, 17th and 18th holes at Royal Liverpool. The low score among the players when you add up all four holes is the winner.

Four holes? Didn't the R&A switch to a three-hole playoff a couple years ago? If you're asking that question, you're a pretty keen playoff observer. Indeed, the R&A had in place plans for a three-hole playoff at Royal Portrush in 2019 and Royal St. George's in 2021 due to logistical issues that made that number a better fit for both courses (turns out a playoff wasn't needed at either championship). But the preference is for four holes, having used that for playoffs in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2015. Prior to 1989, a 36-hole and 18-hole playoff was used.

And what if there’s still a tie after the four holes? Then the R&A does switch to hole-by-hole sudden death.

The last time there was a playoff in the Open Championship? It was 2015, when Zach Johnson prevailed over Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.