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Seo wins Kia Classic for first LPGA Tour title

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — As Hee Kyung Seo was about to receive the trophy for her runaway win in the inaugural Kia Classic, Michelle Wie was standing near the scorer's tent explaining her latest rules gaffe.

Wie was penalized two strokes for grounding her club in a hazard after hitting out of the water near the 11th green at La Costa, giving her a double-bogey 7. At the time she was five strokes behind Seo, who earned her first LPGA Tour title by shooting a 2-under 70 for a six-stroke victory.

The 23-year-old Seo, who is not a member of the LPGA Tour, received one of the three sponsor's exemptions to get into the tournament. An 11-time winner on the Korean LPGA Tour, she can chose to become an LPGA Tour member this year or next.

Wie likely wouldn't have caught Seo, but the penalty dropped her into a tie for fifth at 4 under.

Had she not been penalized, she would have tied Inbee Park for second.

Despite being in the water, Wie parred the 11th. She was notified of the penalty by LPGA Tour rules official Doug Brecht a few holes later.

"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 told reporters later, down the hill and around the corner of a grandstand from where Seo was getting her trophy on the 18th green. "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. "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.

She was also disqualified from the 2008 State Farm Classic for failing to sign her second-round scorecard.

"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."

Maybe that's because she seemed to have so little trouble negotiating a long course that almost everyone else struggled with, especially when the breeze kicked up.

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

"I can't stop smiling," she said. "I just feel so good and happy."

The only real blemish on her round was a double bogey when she hit into the water on the par-3 16th. She had six birdies and two bogeys.

"It was difficult to me, too," Seo said. "This week I had very good swings, I think."

Seo earned $255,000. On Friday, she said she saw a nice house on No. 14 that she'd like to buy.

Someone must have filled her in on California real estate prices.

"I think I need to earn more, lots of money," she said.

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.

With the victory, Seo has the option to join the LPGA Tour 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.