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April 7, 2006

Ernie Els


CRAIG HEATLEY: It's my pleasure to present Ernie Els, a 71 today, matching a 71 yesterday. How do you feel?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's two good rounds there, two solid rounds. You know, obviously as you can see, I had it going there for a while. I just played 10 really bad. I pulled my tee shot too far left and just played a bad hole there. Made a couple of mental errors there.

But other than that, you know, I played as solid as ever. I hit a lot of fairways, I hit a lot of greens, a putt here and there. I'm sure you guys have heard that before. You know, I've got to take what I have, 2-under seems like it's not too bad at the moment. Conditions are quite tough today. So it is what it is. I've got a chance, you know, Saturday, Sunday.

Q. Several players have said this reminds them more of a U.S. Open than The Masters because of some of the changes and also because of the weather; do you agree?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. Definitely I played that way today. I said to Ricci, my caddie, "We need to keep it in play, keep it in the fairway and take it from there."

You don't want to get too overaggressive here at the moment, the way the golf course is playing. I can see a lot of backtracking happening over the weekend at some stages in this tournament this year.

Q. You mentioned that conditions are tough today. Could you talk about the differences today from yesterday?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think the flag positions are still quite definitely. You know, the flags when they are on top of the hills are very difficult to get to and then you get the wind in there, too, to make things even more difficult. So club selection is the most difficult part of the game today.

I think to get the right breeze, it seems like it changes all the time, you've got to get your yardage and stick to a club that you're comfortable with and go with that. If you miss those greens on the flags on top, it's very difficult to get it up-and-down. So the course has got some teeth today.

Q. As a guy who has won the U.S. twice, how are you doing with embracing the way the course is playing and the fact that it's not fun and as free-wheeling as it may have been?

ERNIE ELS: Well, obviously I've played some good tournaments in U.S. Opens. You know, that's the way I want to play this week. I said to Ricci, I said, "I want to play the way you play in U.S. Opens, get the ball in play." Not always hammer your driver out there, that little bit of rough, it's rough now, you've got to be careful how the ball comes out there. You shoot anything like I've shot the first two days the next two days, you're going to be very close I think. So I'm pleased with that. (Smiling).

Q. Can you just give us an update on your knee? Is it holding up?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's very good, yeah. I've been doing a lot of work on it. I'm taking some anti-inflammatories and that's helping. The knee's fine, really fine.

Q. Is there anything you do at a U.S. Open that you don't do here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, that's a pretty good question. I think we've got our lines that we need to play off certain holes. You've got to be very disciplined in that.

Like the first hole today, 3-wood; 18th hole, I hit 3-wood off the tee. I hit a couple of 3-woods today that I just wanted to get the ball in play, so we do that at U.S. Opens.

You play away from flags here like you do at U.S. Opens and the only difference is the rough is not as high. Probably give that some time. (Laughter) We'll get there.

Q. You mentioned keep the ball in play, don't be overly aggressive; are you defensive?

ERNIE ELS: No, that's not -- there's a fine line, obviously. When I did get a little defensive on 10, it really bit me in the behind. So you need to be careful. You need to make your swing as good as you can, but you need to get your line and stick with that. You can't get defensive. If you play away from the flag, that's not saying it's defensive. That's being careful and playing the percentage. I think that's the word; you want to play the percentages and not get negative and play too defensive so to speak.

Q. You said of your score, it seems like it's not that bad -- it seems like it's not bad, rather. Are you kind of having to wrestle with the fact that 71 is pretty good at a course where you've shot 65s and 66s before?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think yesterday's 71 was a better 71 than today. That's basically what I meant. I think if you shoot 33, you've got things going, you shoot 71 after that, you know, 71 is still good, but it's not as good as you probably want it to be.

Q. You mentioned that there's going to be a fair amount of backtracking this weekend. In years past when you put up a big number, you walk off a green, you're obviously disappointed as I'm sure you are this week, but is there a different feeling because you know everyone else is doing it around you as well?

ERNIE ELS: The finish is quite difficult. Today the finish is a little downwind, 17, 18. But the back nine is awfully tough. The 10th hole is into the wind today. It's a very long hole, and 11 is really long; it's almost playing like a par 5. You're playing away basically from the water and from the flag, so then you've got a very tough pitch shot.

So you want to be safe and fine, but, you know, if you're too safe, you've got a very difficult shot to make par. In years past when you came in with 7-irons, you're more aggressive. With a 4-iron, you're not that aggressive, so you need to get the ball in play.

Q. How did 4 play today with the tee moved up?

ERNIE ELS: 4 was surprisingly, should I say, easy. (Laughter).

Q. Relatively.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, the flag was top right. I saw the flags this morning before I went out and I was praying that they had the tees up, so it was up. I hit 7-iron there, so it was fine.

Q. What was your number there?

ERNIE ELS: Oh, I can't remember. I hit 7-iron.

Q. You've been in this spot before. How does this feel today heading into the weekend compared to previous years?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think I haven't quite been in the lead here yet through two rounds before but I think I'm going to be in pretty good shape. I think 6-under is going to be leading I'm sure, and even if it's not, I'm fine. I've just got to try and sneak something into the 60s over the weekend and see what happens. At least I know you don't have to try and shoot 65 to try and win.

Q. About two other players, the last time that Ben Crenshaw won here, is his last victory anywhere. Last time I checked, he's still in the red, hanging in there. Your reaction that he's at 1-under? And Chad Campbell a couple of years ago was voted the next great player by peers, so your comments on sort of each of them.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'll start with Ben. Ben obviously loves this place. Him and his caddie, they are such a great team around here. I spoke to Trevor Immelman before I went to play this morning, he's playing with Ben, and, you know, he's going to really learn a lot these two days, where to hit putts. There's no one better than Ben on the greens here at Augusta, probably him, Tiger and Phil. They really putt these greens the best. I think Ben still may be even better than Tiger on the greens. He's obviously hitting the ball well, and he's probably scrambling well, too, because it's a very long course from the back tees. But it's great to see him up.

And Chad Campbell, you know, I've played with him quite a few times the last couple of years. It seems like he's gone up a level this year. It seems like he's really comfortable with his swing and his game. It seems like he's there every week. He's almost a golfing machine, so to speak. He just almost plays every week, seems like he never gets tired of the game. I think he's definitely going to be very tough to beat this weekend. He's a very good ball-striker and seems like he's putting well.

CRAIG HEATLEY: Ernie, thanks for coming in and all the very best for the weekend.

End of FastScripts.

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