Journalist costs Wie $50,000

IF THE power of the press can be exaggerated at times, there was no denying the intervention of a journalist at the Samsung World Championship in California on Sunday provoked a seismic rules rumpus which led to the disqualification of the most high-profile 16-year-old in world golf.

On her debut as a professional, Michelle Wie thought she had finished fourth in Palm Desert behind the peerless Annika Sorenstam and picked up her first cheque as a paid competitor for more than $53,000.

However, after Michael Bamberger, a sportswriter with the American magazine, Sports Illustrated, alerted rules officials to a mistaken drop on Saturday by the teenager at the seventh, it all ended in tears as Wie was penalised for dropping her ball nearer to the hole (a two-shot penalty) and subsequently signing an incorrect scorecard.

This extraordinary sequence of events began with Bamberger following Wie during the third round. The teenager's woes could be traced to a wayward shot on the par 5 and a penalty drop from a bush to the left of the green. At the time, the teenager thought she saved par.

Bamberger, though, was concerned about the legitimacy of the drop. He'd watched the youngster play the hole with Grace Park and had paced off [the drop] after the two players, who were in the final pairing, had cleared the green.

"I did it in a crude way," admitted Bamberger. "Then I thought 'let's see what she has to say' at the after-round press conference, and I hoped she would convince me. But I just felt uncomfortable. Integrity is part of the game. I don't think she cheated, she was just hasty."

Admitting a clash of obligations between his work as a journalist and the best interests of the golfer, Bamberger didn't report his concerns until it was too late to inform Wie and allow her to change her score.

When Bamberger reported the mistake on Sunday, rules officials Jim Haley and Robert O. Smith reviewed TV footage from NBC before inviting Wie and her caddie Greg Johnston to the seventh green after the tournament ended.

In the company of the referees, Wie was asked to show where the ball disappeared into the bush, and where she took her drop.

The officials determined it was closer to the hole - three inches too close according to Wie, about a foot according to the referees. This meant the imposition of a two-shot penalty, which increased her third-round score to 71. In the end, she was disqualified for signing an incorrect card, which cost her the aforementioned $53,126 in prize money.

"I learned a great lesson," Wie said later, as she struggled to contain her emotions. "From now on, I'll call a rules official no matter where it is, whether it's three inches or 100 yards. I respect that."

Smith said: "If I had to make the ruling based on the videotape, to me it was inconclusive."

So he asked Johnston and Wie to show him where the ball was in the bushes and where they dropped. They paced it off, used string to measure the distance and determined the drop to be slightly closer to the hole.

"The Rules of Golf are based on facts," Smith added. "They had to tell us where it was. The fact was, the ball was closer to the hole by 12 to 15 inches."

Bamberger had asked Wie after the third round how she decided where to drop the ball. Wie replied that she used "the triangle thing to make sure that you're not closer."

Even after her disqualification, she felt she'd done 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 spent the previous 12 years on the LPGA caddying for the American Juli Inkster, became involved in a heated discussion with Bamberger as Wie and her family departed Bighorn.

Johnston was bothered that Bamberger, a former caddie, waited a day before raising the matter with tour officials. Had Wie been notified before signing her card, she wouldn't have been disqualified. Asked why he didn't raise the controversy 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."

Before departing, Wie's father, BJ, shook Bamberger's hand and said there was no hard feelings.

All this controversy surrounding Wie, of course, wholly detracted from a brilliant performance by Sorenstam, who proved in no uncertain terms that she remains the best female golfer on the planet by a wide margin.

The Swede claimed a record fifth win at the stormy event. After carding 69 in a final round which included three delays for lightning, the world No 1 finished on the 18-under-par total of 270 and won by eight shots from Paula Creamer.

"I'm very proud of the way I played and produced four solid rounds of golf," said Sorenstam.

The Swede refused to concede that Wie cornering the media attention had been an extra motivation. But she did add: "This was a week with a little bit extra on the line.

"There was the five wins, the player of the year title and so on. And there's no doubt the young players will take over eventually. But I'm not going to give it away (the world No 1 ranking) easily."

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