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January 24, 2018

Ernie Els

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

CLARE BODEL: Ernie, welcome back to Dubai. It's a place where you've had a lot of success in the past and still hold the course record. Glad to be back and enjoying it so far?

ERNIE ELS: Absolutely, yeah, it's been quite a while since 1993 and now time is moving on but it's nice to be back here. Didn't make it last year. I had to go somewhere else, but definitely happy to be back. Seen a lot of changes obviously in the region and the golf course and so forth. So looking toward to playing.

CLARE BODEL: It's a course that you've come here for many years, and like you say, there has been a lot of changes but it still seems to be a great course and one that everyone enjoys coming to.

ERNIE ELS: It's my favourite one. All the other ones are good, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, but yeah, finding success earlier on here, was wonderful, and you know, just great memories. I won here in 1994, a memorable day, Greg Norman was world No. 1.

I was really young back then trying to prove myself and lucky enough to win. And ever since then, you know, I just always enjoyed playing here. I won a couple more times, so for a while there, I really had some good years here. I finished a lot of top fives and a couple of wins, so it's one of my favourite places.

Q. Are you surprised that the course record stands?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it is 61. (Laughter) that's quite low. There's been 62s and 63s, but on that particular day, everything went in. You know, today's day and age with technology, the par 5s are all very, very reachable for these young guys. They have lengthened the course here through the years.

But yeah, I mean, it is what it is. Somebody might shoot 59 this week, who knows.

Q. As you said, time's moving on. What's your mind-set at the start of every year now as you get a little bit older? Does it change at all?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah, I mean, touch wood, I feel a bit more healthy than I did this time last year. I had quite a few little niggles in the body, and you know, we all have niggles, but getting to your late 40s, it's tough to swing the club the way you did, especially when you have a niggle.

I feel better. I've lost a little bit of weight, so hopefully that helps, and you know, I'm looking forward to a full schedule. We'll take stock after this year and see what we're going to do. If I have a good year, I might keep going with a full schedule next year until I'm 50 and then obviously then maybe see where we go. But for now, still nice to compete against the young guys and come to places that I really enjoy like Dubai and other places.

Q. Do you see any characteristics in this course as to why it's produced the last two Masters Champion or is it just a coincidence?
ERNIE ELS: Definitely a drawer's golf course. It's where my eye found back in the day, I could move it easily right-to-left and obviously Augusta is very similar. It's very early in the season to compare the winner here to having a chance to win Augusta, but there's got to be something there now, with the last two winners won Augusta. I think that's why the field's so strong, too. It's a wonderful field here. All the way from the U.S. and South Africa, all the way around the world, this is really one of the strongest fields running into Augusta.

Yeah, obviously it says a lot for the tournament. It gives the tournament a lot of credibility when Augusta winners come out of here.

Q. Just talk about the bigger picture for 2018, when you're looking at the, for want of a better expression, the box office names in golf, they all seem to be playing well and fit and healthy, as well, Rory back, Tiger back, etc. Do you think this could be a bit of a vintage year for golf?
ERNIE ELS: I definitely think so. From the younger generation, the early 20-somethings, they seem like they are really on their game. The more veteran players like Sergio and obviously Tiger, you can even almost put Rory in there, although he's only 28, he's been around ten years. These kind of guys are playing great. And then even the older players.

So I think it's an unbelievable mix of talent that's really coming to the top. Could be a banner year for golf around the world. I think it's going to be very, very exciting. Obviously with Tiger coming back, Rory, and if he has a good week, it's really going to put the cat on the pigeon so to speak. Could be a really exciting time, right up to the Masters, and then we take stock from there and then into the last three majors, could be a great year.

Q. Would there be sadness if someone were to equal your record here or most wins record, or is that something you don't care about that, that sentimental nonsense?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we don't really look at it that way as players. It's nice to be recognised as the guy who has won the most, but it's not going to stand forever. I think that's just sentimental stuff to be honest.

But as I say, I've had great times here and fortunate enough to win three times. I mean, especially the last one I won against Miguel Ángel, when I hit the shot out of the desert and made the putt for eagle, that doesn't really happen. So I've had my great breaks around here and it's time for somebody else to take over the mantle, so to speak.

Q. When you were winning those tournaments, did you turn up here expecting to win? Tiger often said he did. He said he turned up to a tournament expecting to win it. When you were having that great run, was that the case with you?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you get a feel for the golf course. This time of the year was always exciting for me. It was a great time to come to the desert and play on these beautiful, manicured golf courses, some of the best manicured courses we play all year. So that really got me excited.

Then you know, knowing that you've won at a place also gives you a lot of confidence. Look at Tommy Fleetwood, coming from behind, winning last week in that unbelievable wind that they played in. I mean, that's some of the best golf I've seen for a long time.

And I had that kind of feeling when I came out here. I had a feeling that I wasn't ever out of the tournament. I had a lot of success that way.

Q. Have you seen much of Tiger back home in Florida these last few months?
ERNIE ELS: I ran into him in the Bahamas. But after the Bahamas, we went to South Africa, so I haven't seen him recently.

But before that, I saw him at the Presidents Cup and he was kind of downtalking his chances and so on. You know, I felt him a little bit and I could feel he's done a lot of work physically. You could feel he's getting ready for something. I think in the back of his mind, he was really getting ready for this year, and physically, feels as strong as ever. I just hope his back holds up because he's hitting it hard again, as you saw in the Bahamas.

So it all looks good, you know, for a good year from him, hopefully.

CLARE BODEL: Thanks, Ernie.

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