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U.S. Open’s new playoff format ensures a Sunday finish

The U.S. Open Trophy on display in the

The U.S. Open Trophy on display in the Lexus tent at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Monday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

While there is never a certainty to the game of golf, the U.S. Open at Shinnecock has a certainty that the previous Opens never had: It will end on Sunday.

For the first time in 118 Opens, if there is a tie after the regulation 72 holes, there will be a two-hole aggregate playoff to decide the champion. If you have a ticket for Sunday, you have a ticket to a trophy ceremony. No more calling in sick on Monday to attend an 18-hole playoff, the norm to decide the title (and it was once 36 holes). No more scrambling by the volunteers to marshal the course, no more displacement of the television schedule (a big deal to Fox Sports).

“By and large, the players want it to end Sunday. The viewers, whether it’s on-site or broadcast, wanted to see it end Sunday, our vendors, the volunteers,” said USGA CEO Mike Davis on Wednesday. “We also concluded that there’s no right or wrong in terms of determining a tie after 72 holes in stroke play. We just thought we’re going to try two holes.”

The U.S. Open has gone to a playoff 33 times, all in either the 18- or 36-hole playoff format. In the last Open playoff in 2008, Tiger Woods won his 14th and last major by defeating Rocco Mediate on Monday. The Open will use the 17th and 18th holes for the playoff.

The USGA became the last major golf body to go to a playoff on Sunday to decide its men’s champion, though they have had it in place for the U.S. Women’s Open and the Senior Open for several years. The Masters has a sudden-death playoff, the British Open has a multi-hole playoff determined by the particular course, the PGA Championship uses three holes.

“I understand it because everyone wants to see a result on Sunday. It’s pretty interesting,” Tiger Woods said. “We’ve got a sudden death, we’ve got a two-hole, three-hole and four-hole playoffs. It’s all about just ending it on Sunday night.”

That said, Woods was pretty happy to go to a playoff on Monday at Torrey Pines in 2008 after holing a flashy putt on the 18th to force it. He was playing on a broken leg.

“I really couldn’t go much further on that Sunday,” Woods said with a knowing smile. “But I totally understand having a result on Sunday.”

Rory McIlroy, the 2011 Open champion in a runaway, was a bit on the fence about it. “For me, if I was to get myself into a playoff, I feel like I’d have a better chance of beating a person over 18 holes than over two holes. But at the same time, I very much understand the decision to try and finish this tournament on a Sunday.

“I think to have the two holes is a very good thing because it still gives you a chance if you go one or two down after the first hole. For the most part, I’d say it’s 80 percent positive, 20 percent negative.”

For Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Open champion, it was a revelation.

“It’s still 18 holes, right?” when asked his view of the change.

“No, it’s two,” he was told.

“Oh, it is two? I didn’t even know,” he said. “I honestly had no idea that it even changed. I was even looking at a weather forecast for Monday, thinking, you know, what’s it look like if you happen to work your way into a playoff? So shows you what I know.”

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