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How Do They Determine Final Pairings in a Golf Tournament? | Tied Golfers, Popular Golfers, and TV Viewership

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The PGA tour tries to be very fair and create a balance for each golfer. How do they determine the final pairings in a golf tournament? Better yet, how do they come up with the pairings for each round? Most rounds on the PGA Tour consist of four rounds starting on Thursday and ending on Sunday. This article will go into depth for each round to give insight into how the PGA Tour chooses pairings for a regular event.

How does the PGA tour balance the tee times?

The PGA Tour must balance the tee times making sure every golfer has a fair chance at winning a tournament while also rewarding those players who have performed the best. They are able to balance the tee times by splitting the players into 4 categories. Players who are put in Category 4 have an added incentive to rise the ranks, while those in Category 1 enjoy added perks of success on the PGA Tour. It is not a perfect system by any means, but the PGA Tour has a solid system in place that balances the two as best as possible. 

First and Second Rounds – Thursday and Friday

Officials determine the first and second-round pairings of a PGA Tour event by the Tuesday before the event starts, and it is generally based on merit. There are typically four categories that officials lump players into. Based on their respective category, players are randomly paired together within each category. Obviously, tournament directors will be more inclined to “randomly” pair Tiger Woods with Rory McIlroy for viewership and have some leeway in doing so for major events.

Category 1 – The best tee times

Category 1 consists of:

  • PGA Tour winners for the past two seasons
  • Major championship winners
  • Players who have been on the PGA Tour for at least 15 years and won more than 20 times in their career
  • Players currently within the top 20 on the FedEx Cup list, PGA Tour Money list, and World Golf Rankings also fall into this category.

Players within category one will get the best tee times as early as possible on Thursday for the first round. Early morning tee times on Thursday are the most preferable because golfers will have the first opportunity on the golf course (imagine having to play golf after 150 other players have walked on the greens before you) and play in generally more conditions favorable than the afternoon. 

Category 2

Category 2 is basically for players who have had the credentials of the first category but have not achieved them in a while. This includes players who had won tournaments at least five years before the event started, whether a major or a normal event. The only kicker is that players must have played in at least five PGA Tour events (or 10 combined on all the Tours, including Web.com and Champions) the previous year. 

Category 3

Category 3 is for those who are not quite as accomplished as those in Category 2 but have performed well on the PGA Tour. This includes players who finished within the top 125 as of the previous year, have made at least 50 cuts in their career, or are ranked between 21-50 on the Official World Golf Ranking list. 

Category 4 – The worst tee times

Anyone who did not make it into the first three categories will be included in Category 4, with tee times on Thursday for this category ranging from before noon until the late afternoon. At least they were able to make it into the tournament, right? 

Determining the second-round pairings in a golf tournament (Friday) 

Inverse or FILO (First In, Last Out) Method

PGA championship Round 1 tee times
PGA Championship Round 1 Tee Times
PGA championship Round 2 tee times
PGA Championship Round 2 Tee Times

The second round is basically the inverse of the first round. This means that the first players who teed off on Thursday would be among the last to tee off on Friday. This is another added benefit for players in Category 1, as they will have the most time off between rounds one and two. Category 4 players will have the most difficulty as they will have finished among the last groups on Thursday and then have to turn around and play the earliest on Friday, leaving little to no time off in between the first two rounds. As one can see, it gives added motivation for players who are in the lower categories to try to move up to get better perks. 

Determine the third-round pairings in a golf tournament (Saturday)

After the second round has been completed, a 36-hole cut is implemented where the 70 lowest scores (and ties) can generally move on into the weekend while everyone else prepares for the next event. The PGA Tour uses what is known as first in, last out, or FILO for tied golfers. This means that the player who finished their round the earliest prior would go out the latest. For example, if players A/B/C all had the same score, but C finished his round first, his tee time for Saturday would be later than A or B. The lowest scores from the second round on Friday would go out in the last pairing. 

Determine the final round pairings in a golf tournament (Sunday)

The fourth round on Sunday is much the same, with the lowest scores going in the last pairings and the PGA Tour utilizing the FILO method for any ties that have taken place from the prior round.

example of the open championship round 4 tee times
Example of The Open Major Championship - Final Round Pairings

How does weather determine the final pairings in a golf tournament?

Weather can affect the final pairings causing delays and players having to start on simultaneous tees. If implemented for the PGA Tour event, the highest scores from the previous round would begin their round on the 10th hole, while the lowest scores would play a normal round starting on hole one. It is impossible to predict the weather with certainty and the PGA does a great job of moving tee times around based on weather delays. How does the weather affect the golf ball?

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