Reporting from Carlsbad — Winning, it turns out, was the easy part for Hee Kyung Seo.
So easy that a rules violation by Michelle Wie provided the only drama in the final round of the Kia Classic on Sunday at La Costa Resort and Spa.
No player got closer than four shots to Seo, who started the round with a five-shot lead, shot a two-under-par 70 and coasted to a six-shot victory over Inbee Park.
Now comes the hard part for Seo, whose four-day total of 12-under 276 earned her $255,000 in prize money. She is a non-exempt player on the LPGA Tour who played this week on a sponsor exemption but has the option of joining as a fully exempt player as a result of her victory.
But Seo, a South Korean who plays mostly on the Korean LPGA, isn't sure she's ready to play full time on the U.S.-based tour.
"There are lots of things to do now, so I couldn't think even about that yet," said Seo, who has the option of deferring her membership until the start of the 2011 season. "I just want to finish this season well. And then I will think about it."
While Seo ponders that, Wie will stew over the decision by rules officials to assess a two-shot penalty for grounding her club in a hazard on the par-five 11th hole.
Wie, going for the green in two, hit into a greenside water hazard, but decided to try and hit the partially submerged ball out. She popped the ball up and it landed in the grass, but still inside the hazard. She then touched her club to the ground, a violation of rule 13-4b.
Wie claimed she was using the club to keep her balance and pleaded with a rules official after learning of the penalty. Officials can waive the penalty if they deem the club touched the ground to keep from falling, but Wie lost the argument, even after reviewing the tape with officials on television.
"They're basing the penalty on what it looked like and they never really asked me how I felt," Wie said. "So it felt a little bit unfair in that sense, but they make the rules, so there's only a certain amount that I could do."
The penalty dropped Wie from four shots behind Seo to six shots behind with seven holes to play. She finished tied for sixth at four under. Without the penalty, she would have tied for second. It ended up costing her about $75,000 in prize money, but Wie said it might have been more.
"I was making birdies and I could have maybe put more pressure on [Seo], but it happens," Wie said.
Seo was the only player to break par in all four rounds. Park shot a tournament-best 65 on Sunday, but she started the round 11 shots behind and Seo said she felt her lead was safe.
"There were not many players getting scores down so I was very comfortable," she said.
Seo was a little shakier than she was the first three rounds, hitting only nine greens in regulation, but chipped in twice for birdies and needed only 23 putts for the day.
"This is really, really big for me," Seo said. "I think this is a turning point for my golf career."