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Stroke play, also known as medal play, is a scoring system in the sport of golf in which the total number of strokes is counted over one, or more rounds, of 18 holes; as opposed to match play, in which the player, or team, earns a point for each hole in which they have bested their opponents. In stroke play the winner is the player who has taken the fewest strokes over the course of the round, or rounds.
Although most professional tournaments are played using the stroke play scoring system, there are, or have been, some notable exceptions, for example the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and the Volvo World Match Play Championship, and most team events, for example the Ryder Cup, all of which are in match play format.
Players record the number of strokes taken at each hole and total them up at the end of a given round, or rounds. The player with the lowest total is the winner. In handicap competitions, the player would subtract their handicap from the total (gross) score to generate their net score, and the player with the lowest net score is the winner.
Scores may be reported in relation to par for easy comparison with other golfers' scores. For example, a player whose score is three strokes over par after a given hole would appear as "+3" on the scoreboard.
Should there be a tie for first place, it may be desirable to determine an outright winner. Two of the more common methods are a playoff and scorecard count back.
Most tournaments enforce a cut, which in a typical 72-hole tournament is done after 36 holes. The number of players who "make the cut" depends on the tournament rules – in a typical PGA Tour event the top 70 professionals (plus ties) after 36 holes. Any player who turns in a score higher than the "cut line" will "miss the cut" and take no further part in the tournament.
One of the most common methods for settling ties is by means of a playoff, whereby those players who have tied for the lead replay a set number of holes. If still tied after those holes then further sudden death holes may also be played until a winner emerges.
Ties in professional golf are generally settled by means of a playoff. Different tournaments have various formats for their playoffs, ranging from another full round, as employed in the U.S. Open, through to a three or four hole playoff as used in the PGA Championship and The Open Championship (British Open), to straightforward sudden death, which is used in most tournaments including The Masters and all other regular PGA Tour and European Tour events. In the longer playoff formats, if at least two players remain tied after such a playoff, then play generally continues in sudden death format.
One method commonly used in amateur competitions, especially when a playoff is not practicable, and used in professional tournaments to seed players in knockout rounds (such as the World Super 6 in Perth, Australia) is a scorecard "count back", whereby comparing scores hole by hole starting with 17, then 16 and so on... the first player with a lower score is declared the loser. This ensures that the player who was in the lead before the tie occurred is declared the winner. To put it another way, to win a tournament one must equal and then pass the leader...not merely catch up to him.