PALM DESERT, Calif. – Michelle Wie (search) was expecting her first paycheck.
She wound up in a rules dispute that got her disqualified Sunday from the Samsung World Championship (search) for taking a bad drop, making a splash in her professional debut for all the wrong reasons.
"I don't feel like I cheated," Wie said, her voice choked with emotion nearly two hours after she walked off the 18th green with a respectable fourth-place finish and her head held high.
It was a rude welcome less than two weeks after the 16-year-old phenom from Hawaii turned pro.
First, she was helpless watching Annika Sorenstam (search) send an emphatic statement with an eight-shot victory to clinch the LPGA Tour (search) money title and her eighth LPGA Player of the Year award.
Then, after Wie finished her round at 74, she was escorted by two rules officials to the par-5 seventh hole at Bighorn Golf Club (search) to show them her drop from a desert bush the day before.
Nearly two hours later, she was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, a decision that cost her $53,126 in prize money.
Because she dropped the ball closer to the hole -- by 3 inches according to her, by about a foot according to the rules officials -- she should have added two strokes to her third-round 71.
"I learned a great lesson," Wie said. "From now on, I'll call a rules official no matter where it is, whether its 3 inches or 100 yards. I respect that."
Wie hit a 5-wood into a Gold Lantana bush Saturday and was barely able to find it. She told her playing partner, Grace Park (search), she was taking an unplayable lie, dropped away from the bush, then chipped to 15 feet and made the par. It was a critical par save, and Wie steadied herself to get within five shots of the lead going into the last round.
Michael Bamberger, a reporter for Sports Illustrated (search), told tour officials Sunday afternoon that he was concerned about the drop. Rules officials Jim Haley and Robert O. Smith reviewed tape from NBC Sports before taking Wie and caddie Greg Johnston to the seventh green after the tournament ended Sunday.
"If I had to make the ruling based on the videotape, to me it was inconclusive," Smith said.
He had Johnston and Wie show him where the ball was in the bushes, then where they dropped. They paced it off, then used string to measure the distance and determined it to be slightly closer.
"The Rules of Golf are based on facts," Smith said. "They had to tell us where it was. The fact was, the ball was closer to the hole by 12 to 15 inches."
Wie took three unplayable lies during the tournament, all without the help of rules officials. She twice asked for help, including a favorable ruling from Haley on Friday when she asked for a free drop because of bees swarming in a desert bush on the 14th hole.
She took this drop with confidence, placing tees in the ground from where her ball was in the bush, and within two club lengths of that spot. Asked by Bamberger after the third round Saturday about her drop, Wie said she used "the triangle thing to make sure that you're not closer."
Even after her disqualification, she felt she did nothing wrong.
"I was honest out there," she said. "I did what I thought was right. I was pretty confident. If I did it again, I'd still do that. It looked right to me. But I learned my lesson."
Johnston, who has spent the last 12 years caddying for Juli Inkster, got into a heated discussion with Bamberger as Wie and her family left Bighorn in a steady rain.
Johnston was bothered that Bamberger, who was at the seventh green when Wie took the drop, waited a day before raising it with tour officials. Had she been notified Saturday before signing her card, she would not have been disqualified.
Bamberger said he paced it off after Wie, playing in the final group Saturday, finished the hole.
"I did it in crude way -- 'Let's see what she has to say.' I was hopeful she could convince me," in the Saturday interview, Bamberger said. "I thought about it more and was just uncomfortable that I knew something. Integrity is at the heart of the game. I don't think she cheated. I think she was just hasty."
Asked why he didn't bring it up before the third round ended, Bamberger said, "That didn't occur to me. I was still in my reporter's mode. I wanted to talk to her first."
This isn't the way Wie wanted to start her professional career.
"I'm pretty sad but, you know, I think I'm going to get over it," she said.
She wound up stealing all the attention from Sorenstam, who thrived off the attention heaped on Wie by turning in one of her most dominant performances this year.
Sorenstam cares more about winning than sending emphatic statements, yet she managed to do both Sunday.
"It's obviously very satisfying," Sorenstam said. "It's a big week for many reasons."
Asked about those reasons, she talked about joining Mickey Wright (search) as the only players to win the same tournament five times since the LPGA Tour began in 1950 and clinching the money title.
But there was more.
"I want to play well when everyone is talking about someone else," she said. "I'm very competitive."
She started with a four-shot lead over Gloria Park, built her lead to nine shots at the turn and led by as many as 10 shots until hitting into the desert and making double bogey on the last hole for a 3-under 69.
Even that became a mess.
The LPGA Tour posted her score as a 68 with a bogey on the last hole, and no one knew she made double bogey until her press conference. The volunteer keeping score didn't realize Sorenstam took a penalty shot for an unplayable lie, and while Sorenstam signed for the right score, it wasn't verified because the rules officials were busy with Wie.
Lost in the disqualification was Sorenstam's eighth victory of the year. She finished at 18-under 270 to finish eight shots ahead of 19-year-old rookie Paula Creamer (search), and earn $212,500, pushing her over $2 million for the fifth straight season. Creamer, whose two victories this year include a seven-shot win in France, holed a wedge shot for eagle on the 12th hole and shot a 70 to finish second.
"I know what it feels like now to be just crushed," Creamer said. "Annika was probably just sending a statement to the world saying, 'I'm still here. I'm still the best player."'