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April 4, 2006

Ernie Els


JIM BLANCHARD: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're delighted to have Ernie Els this afternoon. Let me give you a little background that most of you know. In 2005, Ernie won three times on the PGA European Tour early in the year and then underwent knee surgery and returned to win the dunhill Championship. He was second at both The Masters and the British Open in 2004, and has six Top 10 finishes at Augusta, including second twice in 2000, and in 2004. He's got great records, the 2002 British Open he won in a playoff, two time U.S. Open Champion capturing this title in '94 and '97. He owns 15 PGA TOUR titles and 42 international crowns. Ernie, do you want to make a few comments before the questions?

ERNIE ELS: About what? About my career? (Laughter).

I'm glad to be back. I played golf this morning, played 18 holes this morning and, you know, beautiful, beautiful day. The course is in great shape. Very difficult, but in good shape. You know, looking forward to a good week hopefully.

Q. How does the knee feel right now, and would you change in any way what you do off the course in light of that injury, especially during a golf season, as long as it is? Have you thought about that or do you make any adjustments to some of the activities you may partake in?

ERNIE ELS: The knee is not too bad. It's pretty good when it's nice and warm. We're going to have good weather this week. And I've tested it out around Augusta a few times. I was here about three weeks ago, played three rounds of golf on those two days and then I played nine yesterday, 18 today. So it's quite a hilly course. We've been on the Florida swing where it's been nice and flat, so the knee has been very good. I've obviously had to really work hard on little bad habits I gotten into because of trying to protect the knee a little bit. I think I've gotten over that.

I played good at TPC and I had a good final round going there. So I think I'm starting to hit better shots and I'm excited about that.

The second part of your question, it was just, I want to say it was quite a freakish accident when it happened that I did hurt my knee. You have some water sports, you have a little bit of fun. We're still human. You know, all of us have our things that we do off the golf course, and what happened to me was just kind of freakish. But you think about that, obviously, after it's happened. You feel like a bit of a you shouldn't have done it. But, you know, it's happened and that gave me a good break, basically at home. It's been hard work coming back. But, you know, obviously I'll probably think about it more before I do things like that during the golfing season, to come back to your question.

Q. Is it going to be lucky No. 13 for this time at The Masters?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, why not? You know, I haven't got a problem with No. 13. I've had so many good tournaments here through the years, and a couple of close calls. But all in all, you know, I've got a pretty decent record around Augusta. I've done almost everything but win.

I'd like to just have a solid week and play good golf. There's so much golf to be played, so I just want to give myself some kind of a chance Sunday and I'll be happy with that.

Q. What do you remember about Jack 20 years ago, and what struck you as you watched it?

ERNIE ELS: Jack Nicklaus was all of our hero growing up, our biggest hero growing up I would say for most of the players playing today.

I was back in Johannesburg, South Africa watching it like every year, staying up with my dad, my brother, my mom, we would watch. But I would always be watching The Masters. I obviously watched '86 with great excitement. I guess like everybody, we were hoping for Jack to win, but we didn't think he was going to win, kind of a thing, you know.

To see him play that back nine the way he did was a real dream, not only for him, but for me, too, because you know, how many more times was I going to see Jack Nicklaus in a situation like that. He was getting on at that time. So it was very exciting for us to watch.

Q. Are you still working with Jos and if not, can you please explain why not?

ERNIE ELS: He's not here this week. When we work together it's a lot less than we have been in the past. But, yeah, I still work with him every now and again.

Q. Just a little bit off the beaten path, I'm sure you're aware that Tiger's dad has not been well of late and he flew back at TPC week and whatnot. As a friend of his and a competitor in the game, can you fathom him having to go through this and trying to think about competing and winning another green jacket and doing the things he does while that stuff is still hovering over you?

ERNIE ELS: It's awfully difficult. I know that Tiger's dad is pretty sick but for me to comment on that would be tough. Obviously they are very close and there's no secret about that. You know, I just hope he pulls through it. It must be very tough.

Q. What's the most extreme of the course changes out there, which hole do you think is the most extreme change, and which of the changes do you possibly disagree with the most?

ERNIE ELS: You know, I think that the changes have been made, we've all talked about technology, it's changed so much, and I think Augusta National has made the biggest changes to compensate that, basically.

We haven't really played many Masters with dry conditions yet. We might find it this week.

I think with technology, with all of these golf courses changing, I think we just hold back and see where it goes. See how we play the game on this new Augusta National. I think we've just got to give it some time and see where it goes. I don't think anything should be rushed now with technology or anything. Let's see where it goes. I think the changes they have made, I've played with Gary Player this morning and he was saying that they were playing certain clubs into certain holes, and we're basically playing the same clubs into those holes 20, 30 years later. So I guess that's where Augusta National is trying to go, is to make us play a 5 iron into 11 where they were playing 5 irons into 11 in the '60s, '70s. So that's what we're doing now.

They have a couple more trees to look out for, but we're playing those clubs into these holes now. No. 4, Gary was saying that he was playing a lot with Jack, who was the No. 1 player back then, same as Tiger now with us and Jack was hitting 3 irons back then. I'm sure you're going to see Tiger is only hitting 3 iron at 4. That's basically their plan is to bring back the course where they used to play the shots into the greens back then.

Q. I wanted to talk with you briefly about your fellow South African, Retief Goosen. You got to play with him today in a practice round. How does he look out there today? He's really been playing well the last two weeks, his last eight rounds have been outstanding. Can you comment on how he's swinging the club?

ERNIE ELS: No, he's playing well. He's really playing well. He played good this morning. He's really clipping his driver, he's hitting solid, he's doing everything well to do well here. I think you can definitely put his name up there as a contender, definitely. I think his record, he's getting more confidence as the years go by on this course. I think he's going to have a very good chance to win this tournament this week.

Q. Have you four guys ever played together in any practice rounds, with Retief and Gary?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we played this morning.

Q. Besides this morning.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we play almost every major together. Gary, not anymore. This is the only major Gary still plays. But we used to play the Open Championship together every year and that's changed. But I still play with Retief quite a lot in practice rounds. Played with Trevor Immelman this morning. So we kind of stick together in the majors.

Q. With as much overall success as you've had here, are you a little surprised you haven't broken through and won here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I don't think you can say that. I've been close and I've done a lot of good things around here without winning. So you know, I think 2004, it was almost in the bag there, Phil came through like a champion.

You know, you can just keep going. I love the place. I like the way it sets up now. So, you know, let's give it another go. We'll see.

Q. You talked to Retief and correct me if I'm wrong, but I got the impression from what you're saying, the tone of your voice, you didn't feel you were quite back on a level in your game; true or wrong?

ERNIE ELS: That's not what I said. Are you asking me a question or are you

Q. I just got the feeling that your game had not gotten quite back to that level yet?

ERNIE ELS: Are you asking me a question?

Q. Yeah, is that the case?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm not playing exactly the way you want to play yet but I'm playing good enough. I've just got to be patient and see where it takes me this week. I've put a lot of work into my game. As I said, TPC was not a bad week. I finished poorly in each round but I made enough birdies to contend. I'm taking it, I've been quite patient with myself. But I'm pretty close to maybe doing something special hopefully.

Q. Your persona is so laid back. How much do you define yourself by majors?

ERNIE ELS: I think that's the whole that's my whole profession, since I've come out, I've always wanted to try to win major championships and thankfully it happened early in my career, in 1994. I've had quite a few Top 10s, I would think, and had a lot of chances to win majors. I've won three, but, you know, if you want to be in your own mind regarded as one of the better players, you've got to do it in the majors. That's where the golf courses are stretched to their limits and you basically get stretched to your limit and that's where you've got to perform. If you can do well in those tournaments, you know, you're basically going to be up there with the better players in the world. So that's always been my goal.

Q. How would you assess your performance versus your potential?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, winning three is great. That's more than a lot of other players. As I say, I've had quite a few chances.

I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone. I shouldn't be too cocky about it (laughing).

Q. Do you think the fact that they have lengthened the course has reduced the number of people that can win here?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's a tough one. You know, I think with technology, I've got a 5 wood out this week, I can hit that club 245 and hit it quite high. So I can stop it on the greens from that distance.

I think a lot of guys have got those kind of clubs, 7 woods, and all kind of different stuff. I think technology will help a lot of players like myself. It's difficult to say. As I say, we haven't really played Augusta the last five, six years in very firm, fast conditions. We haven't played a new course, so to speak in firm, fast conditions.

I think the players are so good, there's going to be a mix of players in there.

Q. I'm assuming the 5 wood replaces the 2 iron?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm thinking, yeah, I might leave the 2 iron in and take the 3 iron out. Still juggling it around.

Q. On what occasion did you last use a 5 wood in a tournament? What were conditions like and what course?

ERNIE ELS: I think I was in junior golf. (Laughter).

Q. So this is relatively new.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's quite new, yeah.

Q. Did you ever consider putting a 5 wood in anywhere else?

ERNIE ELS: I have considered it. Ever since I played here, I was here three, four weeks ago and I played quite a few rounds and I could see that a 5 wood would come into play quite a bit, quite a few holes this year. So I've been working on that club last week and I've got it in the bag this week.

Q. Have you ever carried two drivers?

ERNIE ELS: No, it hadn't actually no, I haven't thought about that one.

Q. You know why I asked the question, obviously?


Q. Phil is going to carry two this week.


Q. His draw driver and his fade driver.


Q. Take out a sand wedge and

ERNIE ELS: Well, I mean, we've got the technology out there. I mean, it's how you use it. I think Phil has found a way of using it to his best advantage. If he can draw with one and fade with the other one, he's happy with that, it's up to him, you know. I mean, he knows what he needs to do around here to contend, and if that's what it takes, you know, that's what it takes.

JIM BLANCHARD: Ernie, thank you, good luck this week.

End of FastScripts.

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