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Open Championship alters playoff format to three-hole aggregate

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The Open Championship announced via social media on Friday that it was going to employ a three-hole aggregate playoff followed by sudden death, if needed to determine this year's winner at Royal Portrush.

Beginning with 1989, when Mark Calcavecchia defeated Greg Norman and Wayne Grady at Royal Troon, The Open has used a four-hole aggregate extra session. Prior to that, the championship  used both 18- and 36-hole playoffs during different eras.

The three-hole session at Royal Portrush will include Nos. 1, 13 and 18.

The Open has been decided 21 times in a playoff. The first time, technically, was in 1876. 

According to the British Newspaper Archive, organizers forgot to book the Old Course and Open contestants had to play the championship alongside the general public. The Archive website states:

The constant delays were all too much for David Strath’s nerves and, on ‘the Road Hole’ (the 17th at St Andrews), he decided to play his approach shot, even though the green was not quite clear of players. Inevitably, Strath’s approach shot went through the green and hit one of the departing players. However, these players were not actual players in the Open, but rather were members of the public out enjoying a gentle round of golf while the final round of the Open raged all around them.

Strath eventually completed his round, and found he was tied on first place with Bob Martin.

Strath’s impetuousness was to cost him dear as a complaint was made to the R&A about his ball striking a player on the 17th green. An R&A committee said a ruling would be made after the play-off.

In the meantime, Strath was invited to take part in the play-off with Bob Martin. But as he might well be disqualified as a result of the ruling, Strath decided to pack his bags and flee St Andrews. Thus, Bob Martin won the play-off against himself (‘Martin wandered over the course’, as the writer of the report colourfully phrased it) and was presented with the famous trophy.

The most recent playoff was a bit less eventful, but also took place on the Old Course in 2015, when Zach Johnson defeated Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.