Coetzee back in America for first time since eventful few months in college

george coetzee
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After his brief college career in San Diego, George Coetzee rededicated himself to his golf game.
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 | 7:08 p.m.

George Coetzee of South Africa, the last one into the 64-man field at the WGC-Accenture 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.