Azahara Munoz has had an emotional month leading up to the Sybase Match Play Championship. Initially she considered withdrawing from the premier event after the death of her grandmother just a few weeks ago. Yet with the urging of her family to participate this past weekend Munoz made the trip to Gladstone, NJ and overcame Candie Kung 2 and 1 in the final round to claim her first LPGA title.
The final day of the tournament was not without drama however for the young Spaniard. Though she came out ultimately on top, her victory was overshadowed by a penalty that her playing partner Morgan Pressel received in their morning semi-final match. Pressel was given a penalty due to slow play on the 12th hole. At the time Pressel was 3-up having just won the previous hole, but with the penalty she was then only 1-up bringing Munoz back into the match.
Per rules official Doug Brecht, Pressel had taken 39 more seconds on her previous three shots than the allotted time of 30 seconds per shot. Once given the ruling on No.13 it was clear that Pressel was rattled as the match moved on.
It was only the third time this year that the LPGA has penalized a player for slow play. For Pressel the ruling was a first for her in her seven-year professional career. Adding insult to injury Munoz admitted after the round that she was actually the one playing slow throughout the morning.
”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.”
The round got even stranger when on the 15th hole Pressel called over a rules official to determine if Munoz had touched the line of her putt before putting out the hole. It was ultimately decided that there was not sufficient evidence to penalize Munoz who then went on to win the hole. From there Pressel went on to lose the match when she missed a 3-foot putt on the 17th hole.
Thankfully Munoz’s match with Kung provided little in the drama department, as she was able to seal the win after Kung missed a birdie attempt on the 17th hole. Pressel in the consolation round won 2 and 1 over Vicki Hurst to claim third place.
In separate television interviews both Munoz and Pressel were emotional to the point of tears in their responses to the morning match. The two have previously attested to being close friends which is what made the exchange on the 15th perhaps even more awkward. Pressel however greeted Munoz with a celebratory hug after her victory on the final hole.
For the LPGA however today’s round may leave a sour taste with fans. This was the semi-final match in one of the biggest tournaments of the year, with also one of the biggest paychecks on the line. The slow play penalty comes at an interesting time considering all the attention PGA pro Kevin Na received last weekend at the Player’s Championship. The PGA however hasn’t passed out a slow play penalty in over a decade, while the LPGA did pass out five last year. Their consistency however is questionable and is 39 seconds when only four players are on the course really necessary?
”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.”
An unfortunate situation for sure and hopefully Munoz won’t let the details of a very strange day overshadow what ultimately was a hard fought win. The 2010 Rookie of the Year showed poise and grace in her first victory that would have made her grandmother really proud.