European Solheim Cup team member Azahara Muñoz held off Candie Kung to win 2&1 in the final match of the 2012 Sybase Match Play Championship and become a Rolex First-Time Winner on the LPGA Tour.
Muñoz clinched her first LPGA victory after she halved the 17th hole with Kung. Despite playing with a heavy heart this week after the passing of her grandmother last Sunday, Munoz managed to win six matches to capture the title and the $375,000 first-place prize.
Munoz was the first strike in today’s final match when she pared the first hole to take a 1 up lead over Kung. Kung then responded on the second with a birdie to return the match to all square until a birdie on No. 7 moved her to 1 up over Munoz. The Spaniard then pared the ninth hole to make the turn all square. It wasn’t until the back nine that Munoz took the driver’s seat. After winning Nos. 9, 11 and 12, Munoz looked like she was in the driver’s seat to earn her first LPGA Tour victory. Kung was determined not to go out without a fight as she pared No. 14 to go 2 down with four to play. Munoz then got a routine par on No. 17 to win the match and become this year’s Sybase Match Play Championship.
Munoz never had to play the tricky par-5 18th at Hamilton Farm Golf Club and her largest victory of the week came in the this morning’s semifinal match when she defeated Morgan Pressel 5&4.
The road to Munoz’s match-play title:
Azahara Munoz (19) defeated Lindsey Wright (46), Karrie Webb (6), Jodi Ewart (62), Stacy Lewis (6), Morgan Pressel (15)
Monkey off her back… Munoz’s victory at the Sybase Match Play Championship makes her the second Rolex First-Time Winner this season following Jessica Korda’s win at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
“It feels amazing,” said Munoz of her victory. “You know, I’ve been close a few times, but I just never knew if I was good enough to win. Finally having got it, it feels really good.”
Munoz has come close to winning on the LPGA Tour in the past recording two tied for second finishes at this year’s LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf and the 2011 Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. In 2010, Munoz won Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year becoming the first Spaniard to win the award.
Consolation Match…No. 15 seed Morgan Pressel won the consolation match at the Sybase Match Play Championship over No. 37 seed Vicky Hurst, 2 and 1. Pressel finished the semifinal match with a bit of frustration after violating the pace of place policy on the 12th hole against Azahara Munoz. But she stayed focused and gained control early on in the consolation match, and went 2 UP before the turn. Hurst and Pressel went back-and-forth until Pressel secured the win with two birdies on 16 and 17. In seven years on the LPGA Tour Pressel has recorded 43 top-10s, including eight runner-ups. She became a Rolex First-Time Winner and the youngest player in LPGA history to win a major championship at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship. She went on to win her second tournament at the 2008 Kapalua LPGA Classic.
Still feels good. Even though No. 49 seed Candie Kung lost in the finals to Azahara Munoz, she still feels pretty accomplished. Kung was one of many to come out as champ in the upsets this week, defeating the Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng in the third round.
“It feels great,” Kung said. “I got a lot of text messages from my friends saying congratulations that I beat Yani. She’s a good friend of mine, but it’s golf and I’m going to win one day, she’s going to win one day. But I’m very happy that I got to where I am this week, got to Sunday.”
Uncertain of the outcome of the match, Kung felt it was safe to pack her bags and even check out of her hotel the Saturday morning. But after defeating Tseng and Julieta Granada, she left the course in search of a hotel room for the night. With the match put aside, Tseng offered her hotel room to Kung. When asked who was paying for the room, Kung replied “Oh, I don’t know. We’re going to have to talk about that.”
Munoz is going to Canyon Ranch…With her victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand 2012, Yani Tseng earned an all-inclusive stay for two at a Canyon Ranch resort. In a combined effort to promote health and overall well-being among Tour players, Canyon Ranch will provide every winner of an LPGA event with one all-inclusive stay at one of Canyon Ranch’s two destination resorts.
Azahara Munoz, Rolex Rankings No. 27
MODERATOR: I’d like to welcome 2012 Sybase Match Play Championship champion Azahara Munoz into the interview room. Aza, congratulations. Can you take me through this afternoon’s final round?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Thank you. Well, it’s been ‑‑ you know, none of us play our best, but we didn’t make many mistakes. I feel at the end hole, 16 was kind of weird. She got really unlucky on the ball bounce way left, so I got a good break there. But other than that, I started pretty slow and then made really good birdies on 11, on 13, so that kind of got me going.
MODERATOR: You’re now finally a Rolex first time winner on the LPGA Tour. Can you just tell me how it feels?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: It feels amazing. You know, I’ve been close a few times, but I just never knew if I was good enough to win. Finally having got it, it feels really good.
MODERATOR: You have, I believe, a week off in between now and ShopRite. Do you have any plans to celebrate?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I didn’t have any plans. Maybe I come up with something. Not really. I probably just take it easy. You know, I’m really tired, so probably take a few days off and just relax and do something fun and then get back to work.
Q. So after you won on 17, Morgan came out and gave you a hug. Given everything that happened this morning, how nice was that to sort of end it that way?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: It means a lot. You know, we are really good friends, and I guess what happens on the course stays on the course. But before I went, I was really worried after we finished because she’s a really good friend of mine and I didn’t want that to change. So I want to talk to her before going out this afternoon just to feel better about myself and I didn’t see her, so I sent her a text saying how I felt, what I thought, and we could talk after the round, because I didn’t know if I was going to see her. So she came to me on the range and told me, Just win it for me. So that meant a lot that she came to talk to me before my round, and obviously having her on 17, it was really special.
Q. Aza, could you recount what happened on 15 this morning? I know it seems like a long time ago probably, but it was a very, you know, unusual situation. If you could just recount it from your perspective.
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Yeah, my routine is always like I always try to read the last six, seven feet to the hole, so I always put the club but I don’t ground it. I just look at the hole, I don’t even make a swing. But she thought that I grounded it, so that was the discussion. We just ‑‑ she said that I did, I said I didn’t, so they went on TV and looked at it.
Q. You seem to hover your putter very close to the ground every time you do that. Have you ever been concerned about inadvertently touching the ground in that situation?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: No, I always go like that (indicating.) We hit the ball shot by that much ‑‑ we miss it, I mean, and it’s 20 yards away, you know, so I kind of know ‑‑ that’s the thing. I feel bad because I’m like I want to say I didn’t, but I can’t say a hundred percent I didn’t because I was looking at the hole. Maybe I grounded, but I don’t think so. So I had to, you know, do that for myself because that’s what I thought, you know.
Q. Did you have any strange feelings or was it difficult going into the second match after all that had occurred in the first match?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: No, because she came to talk to me before and everything ‑‑ everything was fine after that. Just knowing that she was fine with me, that’s all that mattered.
Q. When Candie put the ball over ‑‑ on 16 in the afternoon when she put the ball way off to the left and then you kind of put it over there, too, did you think you kind of blew a chance to maybe put a stranglehold on this?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I did. I was just trying to hit the green, and I tried to hit it so soft and just go to the right side of the pin that I completely pulled it. So yeah, I felt really bad after that.
Q. When Morgan was in here with us, she was very emotional. Obviously, you know, after losing, it didn’t help. What she said late in her press conference was that when the officials put you guys on the clock, she felt that she had tried to speed up and you did not and she was penalized for your slow play. How do you feel about that?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Yeah, actually, that’s one of the things I told her. I felt bad because I know I’m on the borderline to being a slow player, but, you know, this morning, she was slow, too. She backed off ‑‑ because she was always first, she backed off a lot of shots. You know, the wind was gusting.
So 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. I would never make her lose a hole.
So when they came to talk to us, I was really surprised, especially after she just went 3‑up and all of a sudden she was only 1‑up. So that was a big difference and I know that, so I do feel bad for that.
Q. One other follow‑up question. A lot of people are going to call this victory controversial or tainted or whatever word they want to use. You’ve waited so long to win, does it take anything away that those words are being used?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I don’t care what ‑‑ you guys (the media) are the ones that are going to say that, not people. 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.
And the grounding the club, she said that ‑‑ I really didn’t think I was and the TV said I didn’t, so it’s nothing I can do about that. I do feel bad about the slow play because it’s true that I’m a slow player, but, you know, when the clock is on, the clock is on.
Q. Aza, despite being stunned, I’m sure, when you heard that she had gotten the loss‑of‑hole penalty, did you then think, wow, now this has really changed things, I’m really back in this? Did you get in that mindset after that initial surprise?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Of course. First of all, I felt so bad. I was talking the whole way to the fairway. I’m like, I can’t believe this happened because I didn’t ‑‑ I didn’t think that she played slow, to be honest. So, you know, I’m not counting how many seconds she takes on every shot, but I didn’t think we played slow, so I was just really surprised. I actually just told her, Can you go ahead, because I was going to go to the bathroom, and they came and said, Hey, we need to talk to you guys, so I was just in shock. Then she was really upset about it, so I was even more upset about it. But obviously that changed the whole thing. I’m not going to lose just because I don’t think it’s fair, either, so I have to play for myself, too.
Q. How nice is it to finally get this win? Is it a little pressure off your back a little bit?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Yeah, it does. You know, I’ve been close a few times and I wasn’t really able to close it out. As I said before, I just never knew if I was going to be able to get the first win. It feels amazing. I’ve been working really hard and I finally got it, so hopefully I can get many more, makes it easier.
Q. Considering everything you went through today and how much you had to overcome this week, does it give you more confidence in your mental strength going forward?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Yeah, I guess so. You know, I just tried to keep my emotions level all week, just tried to be in the present. Obviously today’s been really tough, especially in the morning and after 13 and then what happened on 15, but I just tried to stay cool and just keep staying level.
Q. Have you explained, you know, what happened on 16? Do you attribute that to tiredness? You know, both of you duck‑hooked it and missed the green, you know? I don’t know.
AZAHARA MUNOZ: How do I explain that? What?
Q. You know, the bad shot on 16, the two of you just duck‑hooked ‑‑
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Maybe we were a little tired. The wind was blowing that way, too. We didn’t really feel it. To be honest, I think I was just trying to go right of it, and then when I was on my backswing I said don’t hit it to the bunker, so then I kind of went the other way. But apparently not very focused, I guess.
IN THE WINNER’S CIRCLE with AZAHARA MUNOZ
2012 Sybase Match Play Championship
May 20, 2012
Hometown/Birthplace – Malaga Spain
Birthdate – November 19, 1987 – currently 24 years, six months, one day
Qualified for LPGA Tour – 5th at 2009 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament
Turned Professional – September 2009
Becomes the second Rolex First-Time Winner of 2012 (there were four in 2011)
Increased LPGA career earnings to $1,575,601.75 – moves to 125th on the LPGA Career Money List
Recorded two tied for second finish at the 2011 Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship and this year’s LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf
Won the 2009 Madrid Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour (LET) to record her first professional win
Previous finishes at the Sybase Match Play Championship include tied for 17th in 2010 and tied for 33rd in 2011