A slow-play ruling took center stage Sunday at the Sybase Match Play Championship, but don’t let it overshadow Azahara Munoz’s first career LPGA victory. That title has been a long time coming for Munoz, the Rookie of the Year in 2010.
1. SPANISH SPICE: That Munoz, a 24-year-old from Spain successfully fought her way through six matches at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J., isn’t surprising. Munoz has contended in her past two starts (T-4 at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, T-2 at the LPGA Lotte Championship). Her list of victoms at the Sybase includes Karrie Webb, Stacy Lewis and Morgan Pressel.
Munoz last displayed match-play prowess as a member of the victorious European Solheim Cup team. She put together a 2-1-1 record that week.
The Sybase is Munoz’s first LPGA tour title, but she recorded her first professional victory at the 2009 Madrid Masters on the Ladies European Tour.
2. YES, THAT MATCH: Munoz’s semifinal match against Morgan Pressel provided enough tears and fireworks for the rest of the LPGA season. As the only match-play event on the schedule, it’s unfortunate that it was overshadowed by a rules violation.
The controversy began when Pressel was informed by LPGA officials on the 13th tee that a slow-play penalty had resulted in her losing the 12th hole. That cut her 2-up lead to 1 up. Pressel appealed the decision to referee Marty Robinson, but the penalty stood.
Munoz was defensive when asked about the win being controversial and tainted.
“I don’t care what — you guys are the ones that are going to say that, not people,” said Munoz, who earned $375,000. “You guys can say whatever you want to. You know, I didn’t do anything wrong. She lost the hole because she was slow, I wasn’t. I was slow before, but not when the clock was on and that’s when you can’t be slow.”
Pressel, by the way, had fewer strokes at No. 12 and would have won that hole if not for the penalty. That would have given her a 3-up advantage with six holes to play.
The time penalty was the first for Pressel in seven years on the tour and it left a very bad taste in her mouth, knowing Munoz was the slower player.
“I think that slow play is one of our biggest problems on tour,” Pressel said. “You know, I think that what bothers me the most is that we were given sufficient warning and she really didn’t do anything to speed up and then I was penalized for it.”
Munoz said she was apologetic, adding she was surprised Pressel was penalized.
“I know I was slow and I really apologized for that and I told her, but I do feel both of us were slow and she was the only one getting penalized, and that was not fair and I know that,” Munoz said. “I would never make her lose a hole.”
Pressel raised a second rule concern at the 15th green when she contended that Munoz had touched the line of a birdie putt before striking it. After two rules officials reviewed the video, Munoz was not deemed in violation of the rule. She made that putt to bring the match to all square, then won the next two holes to end the match.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the senior vice president of tour operations. “This is one of those days where it is very tough to be an LPGA official. It’s not an easy thing to deliver a pace of play penalty to a player in a situation like this.”
3. GOOD RUN FOR HURST: Put Vicky Hurst on the list of players with a large amount of potential, perhaps yet to be tapped. Hurst was in the same boat as Munoz this week: Looking for her LPGA breakthrough. Instead, she lost to Candie Kung in the semifinals, 2 and 1, and then lost to Morgan Pressel by the same margin in the consolation match.
The 21-year-old Hurst lit up the Symetra Tour four years ago (she won five times), but has yet to convert that to LPGA success.
Hurst began working with swing coach Gary Gilchrist, who also coaches top-ranked Yani Tseng, at the beginning of the year.
“I was very consistent, which is what I’ve been working on with Gary,” Hurst said at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. “Just kind of staying within myself, whether good shot or bad shot. Bad shots, I tend to get a little bit too fired up and too angry sometimes.”
Hurst finished T-11 at the Kraft, her second-best finish in eight starts this season (not including Sybase). She was T-8 at the HSBC Women’s Champions.
4. QUOTABLE: “I was pretty much sleep walking all day, I’m still tired from yesterday. Both of us didn’t play as good as we should have and we were just kind of up, down, up, down all day. I got lucky. I’m going to try to go take a nap and do it again this afternoon.”
–Candie Kung on her semifinal match with Vicky Hurst. Kung won, 2 and 1, but lost to Munoz in the final by the same margin.
5. SHORT SHOTS: Among the players to make surprising first-round exits were defending champion Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome and Michelle Wie. Another group of top players exited in the second round, including Cristie Kerr and Natalie Gulbis. . . . Candie Kung had the unfortunate luck of drawing World No. 1 Yani Tseng in the third round, only to defeat Tseng, 3 and 2. . . . How much do LPGA players like the Sybase Match Play? Jodi Ewart has been talking about it since the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and hoping to add it to her schedule. Ewart’s tweet upon finding out she was in the field: Great news.. I got into the @SybaseMatchPlay CAN.NOT.WAIT!!!
– The Associated Press contributed to this report