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Thursday February 13, 2014 Home Sweet Home ... Gators View SunTrust Invitational as Ideal Launching Pad

Updated: 8:27am, February 13

Eric Banks

Eric Banks finished 10th in last year's SunTrust Gator Invitational for Florida's top individual performance.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The UF men's golf team needs a kick-start.

At the Sea Best Invitational last week at TPC Sawgrass, Gators coach Buddy Alexander hoped a visit from former pupil Billy Horschel, a rising star on the PGA Tour, might turn the Gators in the right direction.

Horschel spoke to the players, walked the course during the Gators' round one day -- Horschel lives in Ponte Vedra where the tournament was held -- and had dinner with the team.

The Gators finished sixth out of 16 teams. They had their moments, but Alexander wants more from his young team when it hosts the SunTrust Gator Invitation this weekend.

"Whatever upside they have, they need to come up with it pretty quickly,'' he said. "We're halfway through the season. We've had one pretty good tournament, and the other four, frankly, haven't been particularly good."

The Gators want the old cliché "there's no place like home" to ring true Saturday and Sunday at Mark Bostick Golf Course.

Florida has hosted the Gator Invitational annually since 1978. They have dominated the event over the years, winning 25 of 36 tournaments.

However, for only the third time over that stretch, the Gators failed to win in back-to-back years. Auburn won in 2012 and Florida State took the crown a year ago as Florida's two top players -- T.J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber -- dealt with flu-like symptoms and were off their games.

Vogel and McCumber are now playing professionally and if the Gators are to reclaim their own tournament, the junior trio of Santiago Gavino, J.D. Tomlinson and Eric Banks needs to play well.

alexander

The Gators won their own tournament eight consecutive seasons before Auburn snapped that streak two years ago.

They are ready to start a new streak.

"It would be a good starting point to get a little momentum going,'' Banks said. "Obviously on our home course, we feel comfortable here. It would definitely be nice to get back on that train."

Florida's best performance of the season came in October when it finished tied for third at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate.

While success has eluded them for much of the season, Gavino knows success in the Gator Invitational. In the final round of the 2013 tournament, Gavino shot a 3-under par 67, the best round of his career.

He finished tied for 12th. Banks shot a final-round 68 to finish 10th and Tomlinson finished tied for 17th, highlighted by an opening-round 69.

"It's good for us to play at home and get a little confidence going, and get it going for the postseason,'' Gavino said. "It should be to our advantage."

Tomlinson grew up in Gainesville and will have several family and friends in the gallery. He wants to make it worth their time.

"I personally have never won this tournament,'' Tomlinson said. "It would be really cool to finally bring it back here. It's the only home tournament we have. You kind of want to show out the one time a year you are able to."

"We have kind of a leg up [playing at home], and we have something to prove."

The Gators finished fourth a year go, 19 shots off FSU's pace.

Alexander hasn't seen a major theme in Florida's inconsistent season. He attributes much of it to youth and learning the game.

"Somebody asked me in August what my expectations were this year, and I told them my expectations were we would have plenty of diaper rash,'' he said. "We are really young.

"We've had some growing pains. They haven't turned the corner; they haven't quite grasped what we're trying to get them to understand about playing golf. But at home, maybe we'll have a better chance to do that."

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