Seo wins Kia Classic for first LPGA title

Hee Kyung Seo sinks a birdie putt on the 14th hole during the final round of the Kia Classic.

Hee Kyung Seo sinks a birdie putt on the 14th hole during the final round of the Kia Classic.

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Hee Kyung Seo ran away with the inaugural Kia Classic for her first LPGA title Sunday, shooting a 2-under 70 for a six-stroke victory in a final round marked by Michelle Wie’s latest rules gaffe.

Seo, who is not a member of the LPGA, received one of the three sponsor’s exemptions to get into the tournament. The 23-year-old Seo, an 11-time on the Korean LPGA, can chose to become an LPGA member.

After opening with a 70 at La Costa, Seo took the lead with a second-round 67 and had a 69 on Saturday en route to a 12-under 276 total.

South Koreans swept the top four spots, with Inbee Park (65) finishing second, and Jiyai Shin (70) and Jee Young Lee (70) tying for third at 5 under.

Wie was penalized two strokes for grounding her club in a hazard after hitting out of the water near the 11th green, giving her a double-bogey 7. She was notified of the penalty by LPGA rules official Doug Brecht a few holes later. At the time, she was five strokes behind Seo. Wie ended up with a 72 to tie for fifth at 4 under.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” Wie told Brecht on the course.

After her round, Wie went to a TV truck to review video with officials.

“They interpreted it differently than what I felt,” Wie said. “I knew I did ground the club. At the same time I knew that I felt off-balance. I closed my eyes and hit the shot and grounded my club so I wouldn’t fall into the water while wearing a white skirt.

“I accept it,” she added, speaking with reporters a few feet off the 18th green just as Seo was about to receive her trophy. “I accept the fact that it was a penalty stroke if you ground a club. But the fact is I felt like I was off balance. That’s why I grounded the club. That’s a rule so there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Wie has run up against golf’s rule book a number of times.

In her first pro tournament, the 2005 Samsung World Championship, she took a penalty drop for an unplayable lie during her third round. At the end of the tournament, officials ruled she made her drop at the wrong place, should have taken a two-shot penalty and disqualified her for signing an incorrect card.

“It’s always the kind of thing like, ‘Oh, it always happens to me,’ ” Wie said Sunday, “but it’s Murphy’s Law, I guess.”

Asked about Wie’s troubles, Seo said: “No, I didn’t care about that.”

With the victory, Seo has the option to join the LPGA or remain as a nonmember for the current season, then join next season. She said she’ll probably finish the season on the KLPGA Tour and think about it in the offseason.

Regardless, she’s in the field for the season’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship next week in Rancho Mirage, based on her spot on the KLPGA money list last year.

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