Slow-Play Controversy Mars Azahara Munoz's Match Play Win

GLADSTONE, NJ - MAY 20: Morgan Pressel hits her second shot on the seventh hole during her consolation match against Vicky Hurst in the Sybase Match Play Championship at Hamilton Farm Golf Club on May 20, 2012 in Gladstone, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Azahara Munoz earns her first LPGA Tour win but it's Morgan Pressel's pace of play that will mark the 2012 Sybase Match Play Championship.

A week after Kevin Na’s deliberate pre-shot routine during The Players Championship revived the perennial problem of slow play in golf, Morgan Pressel paid the price for violating the LPGA Tour’s pace-of-play policy.

Seemingly in control of her semifinal match with eventual winner Azahara Munoz at the Sybase Match Play Championship on Sunday, Pressel received the bad news when she reached the 13th tee, apparently with a 3-up edge with six holes to play. Before Pressel teed off, tour official Doug Brecht told her she had breached the pace-of-play rule, which meant she lost the previous hole and held only a 1-up lead.

The two played on, but controversy roiled the match again on the 15th hole, when Pressel accused her opponent of brushing the line of her putt with her flat stick before making her stroke. After a lengthy delay that included a review of Golf Channel videotape, rules officials determined there was no infraction, Munoz canned her birdie putt, Pressel missed hers, and the match was all-square.

When Pressel bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17, Munoz was the 2 and 1 winner.

“I was really surprised,” an emotional Pressel told Golf Channel about the slow-play penalty. “I didn’t think that was actually what was going to happen on that tee box and it was a blow. it was a big turning point in the match where i went 3-up and it’s very disheartening.”

About the brouhaha on No. 15, Pressel said she believed she had seen Munoz ground her putter in front of her ball earlier in the match.

“I wasn’t really watching for it, but I looked up and she put her putter down right on the line of her putt, and that’s a rules infraction as well,” Pressel said. “So it was a very very rough morning.”

Munoz, in tears, disputed what Pressel claimed she saw.

“She said that I ground my club and, I mean, maybe I did but I really don’t think so because I always, that’s my routine and I never ground it,” she told Golf Channel.

As for the slow-play penalty, officials had warned the golfers twice and put them on the clock on the 12th tee. That meant that each player had an average of 30 seconds to hit each shot, plus a 10-second grace period. Pressel, who was first on the tee, appeared in no particular hurry as she backed off and switched clubs before striking the ball -- all of which took 57 seconds, according to Golf Channel.

Playing her second shot from the rough, Pressel sauntered up to look at the green and took four practice swings. All told, Golf Channel clocked Pressel at 129 seconds after officials put her on the clock -- a clear violation, according to Brecht.

“In my mind, this was cut and dry,” he told Golf Channel about the dispute. “This is something, as a tour, we have a policy on... The players were informed that they were warned and ... on the clock and they violated the rule of golf and because of that the penalty had to be issued and enforced.”

It’s a tough way to lose a match, but, as Golf Channel on-course reporter Jerry Foltz noted, the best pace-of-play policy in the world won’t speed up pokey golfers unless officials enforce it.

“Slow play is an issue ... amongst the fans, it’s an issue with the growth of the game,” he said.

Munoz, by the way, went on to defeat Candie Kung, 2 and 1, to earn her first tour victory. Unfortunately for the 24-year-old from Spain, the contention that set up her win will likely overshadow her triumph.

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