How does golf scoring work, and how do you read a golf leaderboard?
Golf Culture

How does golf scoring work, and how do you read a golf leaderboard?

A leaderboard at the Masters Tournament The leaderboard at No. 6 at Augusta National Golf Club.

Understanding a golf leaderboard can be difficult for a novice golf fan. If you haven't watched a lot of golf, the leaderboard is confusing. There are red and black numbers, circles and squares and lots of players grouped together in order.

Let's help you understand how a golf leaderboard works.

How does golf scoring work?

Scoring in golf is based on par. Par is an expected measure of an expert golfer's performance on each hole of a golf course. Each hole has a par rating -- typically 3, 4 or 5 -- and the par for all 18 holes of a golf course is added together to measure the total par for a golf course -- typically 70, 71 or 72.

A golfer's score for all 18 holes is added together to get their total score, which can be reflected as a total number or in relationship to par. If a player shoots a round of 4 under par on a golf course with a total par of 72, then they shot 72 minus 4, or 68. If a player shoots 2 over par on a golf course with a total par of 70, then they shot 70 plus 2, or 72.

To determine a player's total score against par for a tournament, you add their scores from all rounds together and then subtract the total par from that number. In a 72-hole, or four-round, tournament, a player's total score is the 18-hole score from each round added together before being subtracted from the total par.

For example, if a player shoots 70, 70, 70 and 70 in a 72-hole tournament, then they scored 280 for the four rounds. If the par on the golf course is 72, then the total expected par would be 288. That means the player shot 8 under par in relationship to par, as 280 subtracted by 288 is -8, reflected as 8 under par.

Then the final tournament leaderboard shows the ranking of players against par.

How do you read a golf leaderboard?

A golf leaderboard shows the order of players from first place to last. The players are listed in order of their score against par for the entire tournament. A golf leaderboard shows a player's aggregate score against par.

However, if a player is still on the golf course and competing their current round, then their score against par is based the round the portion of the tournament they've played so far.

For example, if a golfer is a total of 12 under par for the tournament through 10 holes of the third round (18 holes plus 18 holes plus 10 holes, or 46 of 72 total holes), then that 12-under-par total is for the holes a player has played thus far in a tournament. Trying to compare players who haven't played the same number of holes is somewhat complicated because the remaining holes each player has to play have varying difficulty in total.

How do ties work in golf?

Figuring out who is winning in a golf tournament is easy, but understanding ties in golf is not easy.

There are often ties in a golf tournament, with several players tied on the same total score or the same score against par at different stages in a golf tournament. Rather than waiting until all players complete play to understand where players are in aggregate, a golf leaderboard shows players in order of their score against par, even as players are at different stages of a tournament.

If several players are tied for a spot on the leaderboard, then they're all considered tied for that place. If there are four players tied on 12-under-par total -- even if all four players have completed different portions of the tournament -- then all four players are tied for second place. That means third, fourth and fifth place are all rolled up into second place since they're all second best to the current leader.

In the same example, if there are two players that are tied on 11-under-par total, those two players are tied for sixth place -- not third place. How? Since four players are tied for second, and there's a solo leader, there are five players that are better than all those who are tied for sixth place. Each position in a golf leaderboard is based on how many total players are higher up than you.

At the end of a golf tournament, players are paid based on their position on the leaderboard. If two players are tied on the leaderboard, then the pay for the two places they take up on the leaderboard are combined and then split evenly. For example, if two players finish tied for second place, then the prize money reserved for second place and third place are combined together and split up evenly between the two players.

About the author

Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for nearly 20 years. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He is currently a +2.6 USGA handicap, and he has covered dozens of major championships and professional golf tournaments. He likes writing about golf and making it more accessible by answering the complex questions fans have about the pro game or who want to understand how to play golf better.

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