Bozzelli, Auburn end Florida's Gator win streak
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mark Bostick Golf Course will never rank highly on a list of the Southeastern Conference's most intimidating sports venues. It can't compare to football cathedrals with ominous nicknames like "The Swamp" or "Death Valley." Yet the home-field advantage at the University of Florida's golf course is so great that the home team hadn't tasted defeat since 2003.
Until Sunday. SEC rival Auburn dominated the Gator Invitational Feb. 12, becoming the first team since Augusta State in 2003 to win Florida’s home tournament. Florida had won 24 of the previous 31 Gator Invitationals.
Auburn junior Dominic Bozzelli led the Tigers, winning the individual title by five shots with an 8-under 202 total. Auburn, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, finished at 8-over 848, 16 shots ahead of second-place Arkansas. The Gators were another shot back. Auburn also won its first event of the fall, the Carpet Capital Collegiate.
Blayne Barber, who tied for third individually, said the Tigers were “very” aware of Florida’s home winning streak. “I think some teams don’t come because obviously Florida wins every year,” he said. “We wanted to come and prove something.”
Auburn is seeking its first SEC title since 2002. Beating host Florida and No. 9 Arkansas showed the Tigers are capable of ending their 10-year drought.
The Gator was Bozzelli’s second victory in a row. He closed the fall season by sharing medalist honors with Texas A&M’s Johannes Veerman at Georgia Tech’s U.S. Collegiate, one of the fall’s top tournaments. Bozzelli also is a former winner of the New York State Amateur (2011) and Eastern Amateur (2010). He was a semifinalist at the 2008 U.S. Junior.
Bozzelli entered the Gator at No. 18 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. His 202 total there was the lowest since Graeme McDowell shot 200 in 2002.
Bozzelli and Florida’s T.J. Vogel (3-under 207) were the only players to finish under par this year. Barber, Florida State’s Chase Seifert and Arkansas’ Ethan Tracy shared third at 3 over par. Vogel started the week ranked seventh in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He won last week's JU Invitational at TPC Sawgrass.
Bozzelli’s consecutive victories have put him into consideration for first-team All-American honors and the conference’s player-of-the-year award. He can’t be left out of discussions about the nation's top player, either.
“You always dream big,” Bozzelli said. “I’m just trying to take it one tournament at a time.”
He shot 70 in Sunday’s final round, but it was a second-round 64 that won him the tournament. That score was more than 10 shots below the round’s scoring average (74.7), two strokes off the tournament record and the lowest score at this event since 2001.
Bozzelli made birdie on three of his final four holes in the second round to take a five-shot lead into the final day. The New York native made just one bogey in Saturday’s 36 holes, which were played in cool, windy conditions.
“Dom just has it between the ears,” Barber said. “He’s very confident. He’s determined and resilient. He doesn’t let things bother him.”
Barber said Bozzelli’s one bogey in Saturday’s two rounds was “Tour level. That’s crazy.” Auburn head coach Nick Clinard called Bozzelli a “fighter.”
Bozzelli’s lead was up to seven shots after just three holes Sunday. He was six shots ahead of Vogel at the turn. The Tigers were nine shots ahead of Florida at that point. Auburn cruised to the team title, but Bozzelli faced a tight moment after his bogey at the par-5 12th hole.
His second shot on that hole went left under a tree near the green. His third shot failed to reach the putting surface. He chipped to 8 feet, but missed the par putt. Vogel made a 30-foot birdie putt from the rear fringe to cut the lead to four shots. Bozzelli and Vogel each missed the next two greens. Bozzelli saved par both times. Vogel made consecutive bogeys, giving Bozzelli a six-shot lead with four holes remaining.
“I just tried to play my own game and let the rest take care of itself,” Bozzelli said.