GLADSTONE, N.J. (AP) — Azahara Munoz of Spain defeated Morgan Pressel 2 and 1 in the semifinals of the Sybase Match Play Championship Sunday after a slow-play penalty against the American on the 12th hole turned the match, casting a shadow on the $1.5 million event.
Munoz will play veteran Candie Kung in the title match. Kung beat Vicky Hurst 2 and 1 in the other semifinal of an event that now is shrouded with controversy.
Pressel had won the 12th hole at the Hamilton Farm Golf Club to go 3 up and seemingly was in command with six holes to play.
On the 13th tee, LPGA official and match timer Doug Brecht told the 23-year-old Pressel that she had violated the tour's pace of play by taking 2:09 to play her three shots at the par-3. That was 39 seconds over the allotted 90 seconds allowed; the penalty in match play is the loss of a hole. Munoz and Pressel had been warned about slow play after the ninth hole.
Pressel, seeking her first tour win since 2008, appealed to referee Marty Robinson before her next tee shot, but the penalty stood and her lead went from 3 up to 1 up.
Munoz evened the match with a 10-to-15 foot birdie at No. 15, a stroke that was delayed when Pressel contended the Spaniard touched the line of her putt before striking the ball.
Robinson had two committee officials away from the 15th review the videotape of the one camera angle they had of the hole. Robinson said they could not see any evidence of a rule being broken. Munoz then made her putt.
Pressel lost the match when she bogeyed the next two holes, missing a 3-foot par saver at No. 17.
Pressel refused to be interviewed by an on-course television reporter after the match. An Associated Press photographer heard her tell the reporter "Not a chance" when he asked for an interview.
Munoz was in tears while being interviewed after the match against her friend.
"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."
Daly-Donofrio said two other players have been penalized for slow play this year compared to five all last year. Pressel was the only one disciplined in this tournament, although two others face fines for slow play.
When asked about officials deciding events instead of the players, Daly-Donofrio said that USGA rules have to be upheld. Rule 6-7 says players must play without such delays and it's up to the tour to apply its policy.
Daly-Donofrio said slow play is a concern throughout golf, which was evident on the PGA Tour last week when Kevin Na was very slow at The Players Championship.
Munoz, a 24-year-old NCAA champion who is the 19th seed, is looking for her first LPGA Tour win. She was 2 down after nine holes.
The 49th-seeded Kung, who hasn't won since 2008, was 3 up after 12 holes before securing the win with a birdie at No. 17. The Taiwan native ousted No. 1 ranked Yani Tseng in the third round.
The title match is Sunday afternoon, while Pressel has to face Hurst in an All-American match for third place.
AP Photographer Julio Cortez contributed to this story.