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April 12, 2006

Ernie Els


TODD BUDNICK: We thank Ernie Els for stopping by the 2006 Verizon Heritage.

Harbour Town has been good for you, five top 10s in seven starts. Talk to us about what you like with the course.

ERNIE ELS: The whole place is just great. It's so beautiful here. And especially coming back from a major. You put so much work into a major that if all the work doesn't come off the week of the major, it might come the week after or the week after. Maybe that's why I've had some good weeks in the past. It's the best tournament you have after the majors to come here. We come with the family, we get a house, rent a house, we have the bikes, and go down the beach. Do all the tourist thing. It's really very nice relaxing week.

TODD BUDNICK: You've got the T 7 at the Ford Championship and the T 8 at The PLAYERS, your two top 10s in the U.S.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, two top 10s. I've had my struggles here and there, but I just keep on putting the work in, and it's going to come off sooner or later, hopefully. It hasn't come off yet. But I have to keep grinding away, and going ahead and I feel like the good stuff will come.

Q. How is the knee doing, particularly coming off from Augusta, hilly, maybe more difficult to walk in?

ERNIE ELS: I was actually fine at Augusta, really. The leg was really holding up well and I've been doing a lot of work in the I always want to say off season, but the rehab and stuff. So I'm physically quite fit at the moment. And the leg was fine. The game wasn't quite there.

Q. How many holes did you have to play on Sunday?

ERNIE ELS: We played 30. We finished the 6th hole and then we played the rest.

Q. I think this is the second year in a row you're the only one of the top, the Big 5 or one of the few top 10 players here. Why do you think other top players don't embrace about what you said about this being the perfect place to come after a major?

ERNIE ELS: We're not all the same, are we? Some of the guys, like Phil played the week before The Masters and won, and obviously played The Masters and won. So he's got a legitimate reason not to play this week. And I think Tiger has always taken the week off afterwards, and Retief, I think he's been here a couple of times in the past, but I think he's probably going back to London, back home. So everybody has their own schedule, own reasons why you don't come or come here.

I, in the past, a couple of times didn't come here, depending how my Masters went, also. But if you put it at a percentage, I think this is a great event, it's a limited field. It's a great family place, and it's a great golf course. You've got to really play well to win here?

Q. Does it get your attention when you come into a tournament and you are the only one of the big, big names?

ERNIE ELS: I didn't know that before you said that to me. But it doesn't really make that big a difference, you know. You still want to come out and have a good week, whatever field there is, and whoever is playing. You're basically playing the golf course. It's not like you have a match play event. You've got to try to shoot the best score over four rounds. I wouldn't say it's going to be easier, because those players aren't here, but it's just another stroke play event.

Q. You said last week the game wasn't where you wanted it to be. How close do you feel you are to being able to play where you want to, the way you want?

ERNIE ELS: I've said it now a couple of weeks, at TPC I had a nice round on Sunday, got all the way to I think 7 under par 14 under par won, but I got something really nice going there. And then I went backwards.

At Augusta, halfway through the second round I was 4 under par, putting for a birdie on No. 9 to go 5 under par. 4 under par finished third at the end of the week. I double bogeyed No. 10 on that second round, and kind of went backwards a little bit, then.

I've got myself on certain positions already, the last couple of weeks, the last month. But I just, for some reason haven't sustained it or haven't gone forward on to the next little stage. So as I said, I've got to keep plugging away, keep grinding away and hope it works out?

Q. Do you get the feeling this is a course that you will eventually win on if you keep coming back to?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. One year I missed out on 16 by a couple of inches, which I wasn't very happy about, as you can imagine. And I didn't win there.

One year I think I had the lead when Stewart beat me, I think he shot a low round. I didn't play very well in the final round. And a couple of other times. I love the place. I think it's a great ball striker's golf course, and the wind really plays a huge part in scoring here. So you've got to play good, tidy, aggressive golf here?

Q. Is there some sort of disappointment that you and a lot of the other top players look forward to the first major of the year, when it comes around, and you've got this four years later, but you didn't get to that stage in the tournament and now you've only got three majors left in the season?

ERNIE ELS: The first major is always the very important one. You want to get your major season off to a good start, so to speak. And you put a lot of work into it and just hope for the best. I played four rounds of golf there, I tried to take a positive out of it. As I said, I got myself in a halfway decent spot there. So I know I was there for a little while.

But now I'm looking forward to the rest of the major season. We've got great courses. Even got Winged Foot coming up, I look forward to that. And then I just read in the paper this morning, I see Medinah is going to be the longest course in major history. So that should be nice.

And then we play on the new course, for our generation we've never seen that one. I have played it before, so I know how great the course is. We've got really good ones coming up. And you just you've got to keep working and get your game together for those?

Q. Do you take offense at the buzz that's come out of Augusta that now there's Phil and Tiger have kind of separated themselves and everybody has to catch up to them? What do you think about all that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, Tiger has separated himself ten years ago (laughter). But especially at Augusta, I think Phil has got the game there now. I played with him the first two days and he had those two drivers that he played and the one that he cut, I was hitting it with him or past him, with that driver. That driver goes left to right, I had about 30 yards on it. And it's a nice, high trajectory. His iron shots were the right trajectory, too, he put a lot of spin on the ball. He's always been a great player around the greens. So I think Phil, almost more than Tiger has got more Masters in him, maybe. Because the way he's playing The Masters now it is phenomenal. And he's relaxed. He doesn't have to win it anymore, so he just goes out and goes about his business. And I think at the Masters, those two guys are definitely the players to beat.

The rest of the majors, anything can happen. You don't have to be super long at the U.S. Open. You've got to be very straight there. Same at the British Open. Same at the PGA. Those majors, anybody can still win?

Q. You played with Tim Clark a lot. You must be really impressed with his performance. Does he join you and Retief at the major level?

ERNIE ELS: I think so. To me, he's got a lot of heart. He plays golf with a lot of heart there. He doesn't hit the ball actually long, but he relies a lot on his accuracy. And he played wonderful golf there for 15 holes in the third round. He's a good putter. He's a great player around the greens. His only weakness is his chipping. But he's worked hard on that. And I think his accuracy will always bring him through. So, yeah, he's already made that move. He's finished third at the PGA and now second at the Masters. So that's good stuff.

Q. You mentioned that maybe Phil, rather than Tiger, would have more Masters in him. Do you think you would have a Masters in you? You've hung with Phil, do you think there's a Masters in you?

ERNIE ELS: I've gone through 13 Masters now, so it's getting a little bit long, now. But absolutely. I've always enjoyed that course, and I've had a couple of really good finishes there, so I know what it takes. And definitely I have the game. It's just a matter of timing it right, basically. But, yeah, I'm still looking forward to winning that tournament.

TODD BUDNICK: Thank you very much, Ernie.

End of FastScripts.

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