Why Do Tournaments have a “CUT” and what the heck is “MDF”
If you’re a committed reader of golf tournament results (like a box score reader in baseball), your patience means you are willing to read deep down the columns after each tournament, perhaps searching for your favorite player or players struggling to retain their PGA Tour playing privileges.
It’s also a great chance to compare player performances through each individual round. Often, you can deduce when a course is playing difficult due to the weather conditions or pin and tee box placements. You can really dig in and see which players managed to put four consistent rounds together and others who caught fire for a round or two, but were hampered by over par scores in their other rounds.
Most golf fans are well aware of the “cut” which occurs after two rounds of play. The cut typically reduces the field by half. There are practical reasons for a cut. Paring a field down from 144 players to 70 allows pros to play in twosomes instead of threesomes on Saturday and Sunday. It allows players to sleep in later on the weekend and for the tournament’s leading contenders to play and finish their rounds during the afternoon’s “prime time” from around 2 PM to 6 PM.
The smaller field also competes during a smaller variant of weather during the course of a round. During the first rounds of tournaments, players teeing off at 7:40 AM often face a totally different golf course than their peers who have late tee times, often 2 or 2:30 PM in the afternoon. Strong, gusty winds can dramatically change a golf course. 144 players also leave quite a set of small, imperceptible foot prints and spike marks on the greens and around the holes. In short, the cut helps equal playing conditions on Saturday and Sunday and theoretically produces a champion based more on that individual’s play than all the other variables that make up the first two days of a tournament.
The most devoted of golf’s tournament summaries have probably noticed an increased use of the PGA Tour’s “MDF” designation.
A lot of folks would be excused for thinking MDF stands for “modified cut”. In essence, that’s correct but the actual wordage from the PGA Tour is “made (cut) didn’t finish”.
The PGA Tour first rolled out the MDF concept at the beginning of the 2008 season at the Sony Open in Hawaii. That year, a small number of players were credited with making the cut, earned small checks ($9,699 in this event) but were not allowed to play on the weekend and a chance to rise up the leaderboard.
The fact is it’s not impossible for a player to make the cut “on the number” and rally in the final two rounds to win a golf tournament. Several players over the past decade have experienced this turnabout in performance and fate and it makes for exciting television and galleries. Plus, it just seems fair.
The PGA Tour’s rationale for adopting the rule change was that tournament fields could swell into the 80’s on weekends because a large number of players would be tied on the cut number at the end of the first two rounds.
Shortly after rolling out the format in 2008, the PGA tweaked the MDF by employing it after three rounds of play instead of the first two rounds. Essentially, this is a secondary cut after three rounds of play, designed to accomplish the same thing – thin the herd before Sunday’s final round.
The exact way the MDF works now (summer 2016) is that when 78 or more players make the cut after two rounds, a secondary cut (MDF) is used to reduce the number of players to as close as 70 as possible for Sunday’s final round. Oftentimes this means that as few as 5 or 6 players or as many as a dozen or more players pack up their bags after three rounds and head for the next tour stop. They do collect their money and their FedEx Cup points.
Eight years after its rollout, the MDF remains confusing to fans and frustrating to players.