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February 2, 2016

Ernie Els

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Ernie, we were going to welcome you, but you should welcome us to Dubai I think, your second home. Obviously always a special week for you, coming back here, won three times. Just give us your thoughts.

ERNIE ELS: Thank you, it's wonderful to be back. Yeah, I mean, going back to 1993, first time here, I played an exhibition, I'll never forget, the Creek course, played with Isao, Seve and Nick Faldo, and it was a nine-hole challenge match and I shot 33 at the Creek course and won a magic carpet. It's not magic; it doesn't fly. (Laughter).

But since then, I've just had a great time here. I remember finishing Top-10 in '93 and then obviously winning in '94, shooting that 61 with Sandy Lyle, first round, and Greg Norman, No. 1. I've had some great times here, on and off the golf course. So been a good relationship.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Just give us quick thoughts about this year and looking forward to 2016.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I am. I had a really tough one last year. I was probably -- I've had some bad years but last year was probably the worst. It was all on the greens and it was getting into my head everywhere.

But I feel a lot more comfortable now. After the South African Open or during the South African Open, I changed to the left-hand low method, and since then, I feel a lot more comfortable. My play hasn't been -- or my scores hasn't really shown it yet but I feel like things are coming around.

Looking forward to this year. There's some great major venues, and obviously U.S. Open at Oakmont, Troon, and Baltusrol, the PGA. We've got great tournaments coming up. I'd love to make a bit of noise this year for as much as I can.

Q. Do you think there was some kind of a turnaround during the South African Open or during the Qatar open -- you played really well, and finish was maybe not up to your expectations.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you know, from really being terrible on the greens, which is probably an understatement to being 100 percent from five feet and in last week, you know, that's the improvement I was looking for.

As I say, I'm starting to feel more comfortable. I've got to put a couple more things together in my game. My long game wasn't that great over the weekend in Doha, but the things that I'm working on on the greens are starting to come around a little bit. So that's so pleasing for me. I mean, you cannot play the game if you can't putt. You might as well find another job. So I was thinking that for a while (laughs).

Q. How much hard work have you had to putt over the winter break and the first few weeks to get it to the level where you want?
ERNIE ELS: You know, sportsmen, we're quite hard-headed people. A lot of my friends and my father have told me to change, to make a change, you've got to make a drastic change in your setup or whatever, and they said try the left-hand-low and all this, and I was like, no, no.

But at the South African Open, I was still missing it from 18 inches and a foot and so on. I thought, I'll give it a go, and that second round, I went with that, and started feeling a little bit more stable. I went with that. Now it's starting to feel very normal. Hopefully that's the change that I needed to make.

Q. When you talk about magic carpets, when you look back on your career, where have you had a magic carpet right, here, of course; Wentworth?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, Wentworth, Australia, Melbourne.

Q. Royal Melbourne?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, anywhere in Australia. I won I think four times down there. So yeah, Australia, Wentworth, here, South Africa, Dubai -- where else -- it's been kind of nice, right. There's a couple that's left out there but for the most part, I think we've had a good ride.

Q. Can I just ask you another question, you mentioned the major venues this year and of course you won your first U.S. Open at Oakmont, and we've been talking these last few months and years about the young guys with Rickie now probably being in the top four. Is there still space for you? I know you're still competitive or you wouldn't be out here.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. I get that question a lot now. You're getting into your late 40s now, and you know, people ask you, what are you still doing out here; it's a young man's game. I remember exactly back in '94, I was a young gun and I remember Tom Watson and Hale Irwin and Curtis Strange, in that actual event, I was only one or two ahead of them at the end of the day. I remember them being my age back thin, or close to it.

So yeah, I mean, the consistency is something that, you know, is going to be tough to keep it up. But I do feel that there's horses for courses and there's horses for some majors and so forth. It's been proven through the years. I mean, Tom Watson, Ray Floyd at the Masters, Hale Irwin at the U.S. Open at 45. So those things have happened. But obviously at 46, you don't have probably the consistency as these youngsters have. So there's still room for us, to be blunt.

Q. Do I remember correctly that you only just beat the cut at Oakmont?
ERNIE ELS: No. That was Baltusrol. Oakmont, I shot 71 and I shot I think 69. So I was well in the cut. Baltusrol, I just got into the cut and finished seventh, and that seventh spot got me into the U.S. Open the next year. And then the Masters. But yeah, you need luck. I remember Janzen missing a 6-footer at Baltusrol that would have left me outside of the cut. Yeah, I would not have been in the next year's U.S. Open Championship.

Q. You said horses for courses. What about this golf course where you've had so much success; so when you come back to these golf courses, what is your mind-set like? And just talk a little bit about that 61 and whether it's possible again on this golf course.
ERNIE ELS: Well, first off, talking about the 61, I think it's very possible. The course, I played it this morning, it's in absolutely fantastic shape. The greens are going to be quite firm I think, very fast. The fairways, they have kept bermuda and they have re-seeded the rough. So the rough is going to be tough.

So a ball-striker, the guy that's on is going to do well and the guy that's off is not going to do well, because you're not going to be able to scramble. So that's great for tournament golf, the right setup.

Yeah, I think guys who have done well here will do well here again. Rory, I think he's the new guy on this golf course. I think it just suits his eye. He hits that beautiful draw high, can cut a lot of the doglegs like I did back in my day, and when you're on, you can hit a lot of greens and have a lot of chances for birdies. So those type of players, Rory, guys who are playing well right now, the Brandon Stones; Stephen Gallacher has won here a couple of times. That's great.

And what was your third bit?

Q. When you come back to a golf course like that, what is your mind-set?
ERNIE ELS: The mind-set, yeah, the mind-set is to, I feel so comfortable around here, so I just want to keep doing the same thing. I don't want to change my game plan too much around this place. Depending on flag positions, you're a bit more aggressive on certain holes.

Like the second hole, if the flag is back, you can hit driver, get it near the green and chip it on. If the flag is cut short, you hit it on the fairway with an iron, hit a wedge to the green, get spin, stuff like that is very important around this course. So you can't just blindly blast at it. But if you are extra long and you have that right-to-left shot, you've got a big advantage. Especially like on 18, you get it around the corner and 17.

Q. How does Troon fit into your list of favourite venues?
ERNIE ELS: Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted there just from a pure performance standpoint. But you know, that second nine at Troon is probably some of the most difficult links golf you'll ever play. Even downwind, if it ever blows downwind the back nine, I don't think we've experienced it downwind. But the back nine is some of the best holes you'll ever see. Starting on 10, the blind tee shot, and 11, you know, the one with the bush and the railway. And then all the way back in, it's just great, great golf coming in.

So you try and get your score going on the front and hang on on the back. I don't think that's going to change at all. It's a great venue.

Q. What is it that keeps you going when you're so accomplished? What keeps you going? Why are you still out here?
ERNIE ELS: I still want to prove something to myself. Like I said, I had a terrible time on the greens and I feel that can't really leave you. If you're good, it doesn't really leave you. You've got to prove it to yourself. I think I'm the same as any other golfer of my age, any generation, if you look at from the Lockes to the Peter Thomsons to Gary Players, Arnold Palmers, Jack Nicklaus, to the Seves, Normans, you know, we are all very similar. We want to play until we die, in our minds we're not done, and I'm not done yet.

That's why I really try to get over the problems that I had last year on the greens. I was determined to try and get over it. There were days when I thought I will never get rid of it, but you know, keep going. I still feel I've got some golf left in me. You know, I'll probably sound like a broken record like any other elderly golfer, but I feel still like I can offer something and see if I can do that.

Q. Like to see you guys wear shorts on the PGA TOUR? Do you think that will happen on Finchem's watch or not?
ERNIE ELS: It looks kind of strange, doesn't it. I'm not complaining but if I look around, it looks like awkward (laughter) I'm coming out of December in South Africa, so we have a totally different season to the European guys. It looks a little strange now and again but I'm not complaining, I love it.

Q. Would you like to see it on the PGA Tour?
ERNIE ELS: Certain places. California now it's quite cold, wouldn't see that too much. But in warm conditions, it's a hell of a big help. When it gets warm and muggy, it makes a huge difference. But I don't see it happening. Mr. Tim is quite set in his ways (laughter).

MICHAEL GIBBONS: And we'll end on that note. Thanks very much.

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