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A surprising third day in New Jersey
May 19, 2012

The road to the semifinals:

Candie Kung (49) defeated Catriona Matthew (16), Haeji Kang (48), Yani Tseng (1) and Julieta Granada (56)

Vicky Hurst (37) defeated Meena Lee (28), Cristie Kerr (5), Angela Stanford (12) and So Yeon Ryu (13)

Morgan Pressel (15) defeated Mindy Kim (50), In Bee Park (18), Na Yeon Choi (2) and Anna Nordqvist (26)

Azahara Munoz (19) defeated Lindsey Wright (46), Karrie Webb (6), Jodi Ewart (62) and Stacy Lewis (6)

After last year’s Solheim Cup, Spaniard Azahara Munoz’s confidence was at an all-time high. Munoz boasted an impressive 2-1-1 record then went on to record four top-20 finishes including a tied for second at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship and third at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.

Munoz came into this year’s season with high expectations. It wasn’t until a tie for 31st at the season-opening ISPS Handa Australian Open and tie for 25th at the Honda LPGA Thailand that Munoz knew things had to change.

“I practiced really hard over the winter,” said Munoz. “I was working really hard, but Australia and Singapore and Thailand I didn't play my best, so I was getting a little impatient. But in Phoenix I actually played really bad and my attitude was really bad. So when I got to San Diego, I completely switched and said that I was just going to enjoy it because I was miserable out there on the golf course. So ever since then, I've just -- everything clicked all of a sudden, and if I miss a shot, I just don't get upset, just go out there and hit it again.”

Munoz defeated two-time LPGA Tour winner Stacy Lewis in Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals 5&4 and will face Morgan Pressel in tomorrow’s semifinal match. A win tomorrow will make Munoz the second Rolex First-Time Winner this season following Jessica Korda’s win at the ISPS Handa Australian Open.

It’s been nearly five years since Morgan Pressel has hoisted an LPGA trophy in the air. Although she has stayed in the top-50 and posted a season best tie for 20th at the Kia Classic, Pressel knew it was time for a change in order to be a top competitor through the rest of the season.

“I made a coaching change and I'm now working full time with Ron Stockton on everything,” Pressel said. “He's really simplified my golf swing for me and we've been working a lot on tempo and it's really gotten me into a much better place.”

Stockton has worked with Pressel on every aspect of her game and with a new putter in her bag she’s managed to make some clutch putts. He has also worked with her distance off the tee, which was obvious after outdriving Nordqvist on nearly every hole in the quarterfinals.

“I definitely picked up a little bit of distance, which has been a blessing and a curse,” Pressel said. “Not only are my drives going further, but my shots going into the green are going a little bit further and it's been a little bit difficult at times to judge my distance control and to trust it. I think I'm getting a little bit better with that now that it's been a couple months of hitting the ball a little bit further.”

At 18-years-old, Pressel became the youngest player in LGPA history to win a major championship at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship and secured her second win a year later at the Kapalua LPGA Classic. It’s been a long time coming, but with these changes Pressel feels confident going head-to-head with Azahara Munoz tomorrow morning.

“No matter what happens, I think that this is the best I've played in a long time,” Pressel said. “And from Japan two weeks ago to this week, I finally feel comfortable with my game again to a point where I haven't been in a while. I'm going to give it everything that I have tomorrow, but I just have a lot of confidence going into really the heart of the season.”

Azahara Munoz and Morgan Pressel will have to put their friendship aside during tomorrow’s semifinal match. Munoz and Pressel have been close friends since Munoz’s rookie year in 2010.

Pressel was on-hand to see Munoz deliver a tear jerking speach during her acceptance of the 2010 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award. If Munoz had her way, the two wouldn’t play one another until tomorrow afternoon’s final match.

“It is difficult, said Munoz. “Obviously we're really good friends, but she's very competitive. I'm not as competitive as she is, but we're just going to be polite to each other, I'm sure. We both want to win really bad, so I think it's going to be fun. I wish I wasn't playing her, to be honest, but things are how they are and we're just going to do our best.”

Faced with No. 1 seed Yani Tseng in the morning’s third round match Candie Kung felt it was safe to pack her bags and even check out of her hotel. It wasn’t until Kung defeated Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng in an impressive 3&2 victory then won over Julieta Granada 2&1 that she realized she would need to stay around a little longer.

“I'm going to go find a hotel, said Kung. “I don't have a hotel, I checked out this morning. So I'm going to go find a hotel, get some rest, and then come out here again.”

Kung will face Vicky Hurst in tomorrow’s semifinal round as she looks to record her first LPGA Tour victory since the 2008 Hana Bank KOLON Championship.

The 36-hole day could have caused a few players to grow weary toward the end of the quarterfinal matches. The hot weather conditions and the lengthy day definitely made the quarterfinal match into a battle to see who was more mentally tough. For Vicky Hurst, she needed to stay strong through the back nine in order to seal her match against Julieta Granada.

“We both played pretty solid, I think, the whole day,” Hurst said. “She kind of let go a little bit on the very end, but yeah, it was pretty close. She was 1-up, all square, 1-up, all square. I mean, we both stayed pretty mentally tough. I don't know. In the end, I just pulled it out of nowhere.”

Hurst advances into the semifinals going up against four-time LPGA winner Candie Kung, but the thought that she could be playing for the Rolex First-Time Winner recognition hasn’t crossed her mind yet.

I just try to take it one day at a time,” Hurst said. “She's a great player, so I can't look any farther forward than tomorrow's match.”

Despite the inclement weather conditions at the beginning of the week and playing on a soggy course for Wednesday’s pro-am, the sunny weather for the past two days has cleared up the course and it’s greener than ever, which is a first for the Sybase Match Play Championship. Semifinalist Morgan Pressel thinks the course is in perfect condition.

“The course looks spectacular,” Pressel said. “The grounds crew here has done a really tremendous job. On Tuesday I was out hitting golf balls out of casual water on the golf course, and they really, I mean, the greens are superb. The fairways are finally running a little bit, so the course is playing a little bit shorter and it looks great. It looks like we'll have one more great day of weather. I think that might be the first time of the history of this tournament that we've had five spectacular days like we've had, so it's a nice change.”

SYBASE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP
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