Published November 20, 2014
George Coetzee of South Africa, the last one into the 64-man field at the Match Play Championship, is making his American debut at Dove Mountain — at least as a professional.
The last time Coetzee competed in the United States was in 2005, when he played for the University of San Diego under head coach Tim Mickelson, the brother of four-time major champion Phil Mickelson. He only stayed four months.
"And there's a good reason why it only lasted four months," he said.
Coetzee said he got off to a good start, making the traveling squad for the Toreros, but his game started to slip.
"San Diego is a pretty nice place to be," he said. "The weather is pretty good, and there's a lot of other good things you can do other than play golf. There was no one else to blame but myself. After four months, I couldn't break 80. And I think it took me another three months to break par."
He returned home and played in the South African Open. Because he had won the South African Amateur the year before, he was put in the same group with Retief Goosen and Tim Clark.
"I shot 88 ... and I putted like a champion," Coetzee said. "So I had to kind of make a decision — either play golf or go back and take my studies pretty seriously. It's kind of a no-brainer for me. I love my sport way too much."
Coetzee had to go through Q-school twice on the European Tour. He made a small breakthrough last year when he tied for 26th on the money list, mainly from his runner-up finish in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
He was two shots out of the lead going into the weekend at the British Open and tied for 15th.
His opponent in the first round will be Rory McIlroy, the second-ranked player in the world. Even though Coetzee was the last player to get a spot — after Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury — the seeds were based on the ranking that came out a week after the cutoff, and he moved one spot past Ernie Els.
If not for the Match Play, Coetzee would be in South Africa defending his title in the Telkom PGA Championship in South Africa. He's not complaining.
KEEGAN'S EXPECTORATIONS: Keegan Bradley watched a replay of the Northern Trust Open, where he holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to get into a playoff with Phil Mickelson and Bill Haas, who eventually won on the second extra hole.
It wasn't the clutch putt that stood out. It was the spitting.
It's a nervous habit Bradley didn't realize he had, expectorating before just about every shot, sometimes more than once. It turned into quite a spat on Twitter, particularly from Europeans, and Bradley later tweeted an apology when he saw all the comments.
"I was very surprised to see the replay of the telecast to see how much I was spitting. To be honest with you, I really had no idea I was doing it. And I feel bad," Bradley said. "It's something that I'm going to work on and I just ask everybody to just kind of bear with me as I go through this, because it's something I've done without even knowing it.
"In a way, I'm glad it happened," he said. "But it's something that I'm going to try very hard to stop."
UP FOR GRABS: Martin Kaymer went to No. 1 in the world last year by reaching the final of the Match Play Championship. This year, two players have a chance to take over No. 1.
Luke Donald has to reach the quarterfinals to assure staying at the top for the ninth month.
Rory McIlroy is at No. 2. The only way for him to get to No. 1 for the first time in his career is to win the Match Play, provided that Donald does not make it beyond the second round.
Lee Westwood is at No. 3, and his odds are slightly better than McIlroy because he has played fewer tournaments. For Westwood to return to No. 1 — his position a year ago — he would have to win and make sure Donald doesn't reach the quarterfinals.
LPGA IN SINGAPORE: It's a play on words at the HSBC Women's Champions event this week at Singapore, where organizers have referred to the winner as the "Champion of Champions."
So far, it has lived up to its name.
In its four-year history, the winners have been Lorena Ochoa, Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato, all of whom had been No. 1 in the women's world ranking. The exception is the defending champion, Karrie Webb, who dominated more than any of the other three before the ranking began. Webb is the only player to win the LPGA's "Super Slam" of five majors.
The only players who have been at No. 1 and have not won the HSBC Women's Champions are Yani Tseng and Cristie Kerr.
PRO-AM PREFERENCE: Tiger Woods will play his first pro-am of the year on the PGA Tour next week in the Honda Classic. And even though he finished 128th on the money list a year ago, he can count on an early tee time.
The tour used to rely on the money list to decide who gets the first choice of tee times. As was the case a year ago when he was 68th on the previous year's money list, Woods got into some pro-ams as a sponsor's pick.
In a change this year, the pick of tee times first goes to anyone who is in the "Life Member" category or in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Life members must have played 15 years and won at least 20 times. Woods completed his 15th year in 2011 and has 71 wins.
Others who fall into that category are Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Vijay Singh.
DIVOTS: The average score at Riviera was 72.6 for the week, not only the highest on the PGA Tour this year, but the only tournament that the score was over par. ... For the first time in more than two years, Luke Donald made the cut in a tournament but failed to earn any world ranking points because he finished too low. ... The LPGA Tour made it official last week by saying the Lotte Championship in Hawaii will be played at Ko Olina Golf Club on April 18-21. The LPGA previously had a tournament at the resort on the west end of Oahu. ... Lee Westwood wanted to lose weight in the offseason, and he found the easiest way was to cut out alcohol. He's done well, except when he went to Buckingham Palace to receive his Order of the British Empire. "You have to have a couple of glasses of champagne at lunch afterward and the night before," he said. "But apart from that, I'm sort of back on being off of it."
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last nine players to be No. 1 in the world are playing PGA Tour events this week — five in the Match Play Championship (Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els) and four in the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico (David Duval, Greg Norman, Tom Lehman, Nick Price).
FINAL WORD: "For a short hole, when you get out of position, the hardest shot is just to get back into position." — Harrison Frazar on the 10th hole at Riviera.