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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, some notable exceptions exist, 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. Some, such as The International, a former PGA Tour event, have used a modified stableford system.
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 players would subtract their handicaps from the total (gross) score to generate their net scores, 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 a tie occur for first place, determining an outright winner may be desired. 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 65 (formerly the top 70) professionals (plus ties) after 36 holes. Any player who turns in a score higher than the "cut line" then "misses the cut" and takes no further part in the tournament.
Tournaments may also employ another cut after 54 holes if a large number of players make the 36-hole cut. Players missing this cut are designated as "made cut, did not finish" (MDF). The PGA Tour employed a secondary cut prior to reducing the cut line to the top 65 for the 2020–21 season.
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 Tournament 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 of breaking ties commonly used in amateur competitions, especially when a playoff is not practical 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 the player with the lowest cumulative score over the last 18, 9, 6, 3, or 1 hole(s) is declared the winner.
- "Rule 3. Stroke Play". USGA. Retrieved 2009-07-21.
- Ballengee, Ryan (August 4, 2019). "Jordan Spieth is a victim of the final MDF secondary cut in PGA Tour history". Golf News Net. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
- "5A Setting the Terms of the Competition". The R&A. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
- Easdale, Roderick (November 6, 2017). "How Does Golf Countback Work?". Golf Monthly. Retrieved December 15, 2019.