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USGA to stay with 18 hole playoff

The U.S. Open is the last major championship to use an 18-hole playoff, and that's not about to change.

The public, television viewers and volunteers were spared a fifth day of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last summer when Jim Furyk took bogey on the 17th hole and Tiger Woods failed to birdie the 18th, leaving Angel Cabrera with a one-shot victory.

"Given the importance -- not to say the others aren't important -- we're comfortable with 18 holes," USGA Executive Director David Fay said. "We're dug in on this point, resolving it with a complete round of golf."

The British Open, golf's oldest championship, has used a four-hole playoff the last 20 years. The PGA Championship switched from sudden-death to a three-hole format in 2000, while the Masters continues to use the sudden-death format seen at regular PGA TOUR events.

The U.S. Women's Open had an 18-hole playoff last year at Newport between Annika Sorenstam and Pat Hurst that was sparsely attended and packed as much drama as a rerun on The Food Channel. The USGA changed it this year to a three-hole playoff, and some thought that meant the men's tournament also would change.

Why is three holes good enough for the women but not the men?

"It's a very good question and I don't have a snap answer," Fay said. "We discussed the women's issue and voted differently on it."

"Because of the severity of the golf course, someone can come from way off, finish his round early and suddenly you have these train wrecks out there. We really want people to start with a clean slate," he said.

The choice of a playoff format is subjective.

If the USGA wants a full test, why does it allow sudden-death when the 18-hole playoff ends in a tie, as happened with Ernie Els and Loren Roberts in 1994 at Oakmont.

And what constitutes a full test? In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the U.S. Open playoff was 36 holes, and when Billy Burke and George Von Elm tied in 1931, they came back the next day for 36 more holes. Burke won by one shot, and it remains the longest major in history (144 holes)


December 28, 2007

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