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May 3, 2006

Ernie Els


JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Ernie, for joining us for a few minutes here in the media center at the Wachovia Championship. Your first time here in Charlotte, and make a couple comments on that, and also you've had a pretty successful season with a couple Top 10s already this year and those two second place finishes over in Europe.

But since this is your first visit, why don't you just talk about your experience so far.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I got in on Monday from England. I took two weeks off after Hilton Head. I actually did some practicing yesterday and played only nine holes yesterday, sort of the front nine. But obviously I watched a bit of this tournament on television back home in England the last couple years, and speaking to the players, especially Vijay and some of the other guys, they really recommended me coming here.

I was going to have three weeks off and was going to play next week, but I figured, you know, let me come and try this one out and see what it's like.

You know, really, the treatment we get here is already a little bit different than the normal Tour stops, the help we get from the staff. Yesterday I was really pleased with the way the range was set up. You can actually have lunch on the range. You don't have to come all the way back into the clubhouse and stuff like that.

So little things they really have taken care of. They really have taken care of those little things very well.

The course itself, it reminds you a lot of the old traditional like courses that we play major championships on. The rough is really high, the greens are very undulating, so it's a really good test of golf, so I'm looking forward to a good week hopefully.

Q. Do you see this starting next year, this tournament and PLAYERS as a two-week stretch that is really going to be a popular two-week stretch for you guys?

ERNIE ELS: I haven't actually really looked at the schedule next year. But this year, it's perfect this year for us. I think coming here this week -- next week is Dallas, it's a great week, and the Byron Nelson, also, but I think all the players should play this week, and I think you've got most of the guys here this week anyway.

This tournament is really going to keep growing if the right guys keep showing up.

Q. You mentioned you haven't looked at the schedule next year, but with the PGA in August and then one tournament between the FedEx and the Championship Series, is that something you think international players would stick around in this country? Would they stay here, maybe play Greensboro and move on or stay here and rest?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's a good question. It depends on what the European Tour does. I know after the PGA we normally play at NEC, and that week -- after that week is normally the BMW Championship, but obviously that's going to change. It depends on what the European Tour does and then what the guys are going to do after that one event, if they're going to come back or not.

It's going to be interesting times next year. We'll have to sit down -- I'll have to sit down with Chubby and the guys and really work through it because I've supported both Tours my whole career and I would like to still keep on doing that. But it's obviously going to be tough to do that with the schedule next year.

Q. Have you ever played a U.S. tournament, next week overseas and then come back the next week?

ERNIE ELS: Would I do that?

Q. Well, would you and have you? Have you ever done that?

ERNIE ELS: Oh, yeah, I've done that. I've done lots of crazy things (laughing). I don't know if I'll do that next year. I might skip either events in Europe or America and then start the series.

Q. This is usually kind of a busy time, or has been anyway, with Wentworth coming up and Memorial and things like that. What do you have planned between now and the U.S. Open?

ERNIE ELS: I'm playing next week, as I said. Then I've got a week off. I'll fly back to London on Sunday night after the Byron, and I'll play the PGA at Wentworth and then hoping to come back to Memorial. At the moment I've got the week off of Westchester. I'm not going to play Westchester, and then I'll play the U.S. Open, but I'll stay in the area, and then head back to England.

Q. I thought Westchester was one of your favorites.

ERNIE ELS: It used to be. It really still is, but again, in past years -- I remember the one year I won Memorial and then I played Westchester because it was on the schedule, and then by the time I got to the U.S. Open I was a bit burned out. I think I'm not going to do that.

Q. Retief said you guys had a nice barbecue a week ago Saturday.

ERNIE ELS: I did the cooking. He just sat and drank wine (laughter). I was doing the work.

Q. He said you were meant to go play on Sunday and it was howling rain as he went to New Orleans. I was wondering how that turned out and how much work you got in.

ERNIE ELS: Sunday, that was two weeks ago. Yeah, I played in the afternoon actually. I played with my brother because we just redid the golf club at Wentworth. I played with my brother, myself, and who was the fourth? I can't remember actually. We played in the afternoon late.

Then the next week I did a bit of practicing, and then I went to a football match on Saturday where my beloved team lost.

Q. Which beloved team would this be?

ERNIE ELS: It was Man United, the great team. Chubby is laughing back there.

Q. After playing yesterday, what do you think the keys are to winning this tournament? What do you think you have to do to win it?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you've got to do everything right, really. The rough is such that if you go in the rough, you've got to be really lucky to get your second shot on the green. So driving the ball is very important, and then second shots are as important because these greens are so undulating so you've got to get to the right areas.

What I've seen on the front nine, you've got to keep the ball below the hole. I'm sure the back nine is the same. I have seen the finish, they've got a great finish to this tournament. 16 is a long par 4, 17 is a crazy par 3, and then 18 is a very tough driving hole.

Basically this is a great tune-up to any major championship, and you've got to basically do the same things well that you have to do at a major. So everything basically.

Q. Given what you were just saying about the finishing holes, I know you haven't been out there yet, but just your thoughts on 17 being kind of crazy, is that really going to be the key in that three-hole stretch?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, I haven't played it, but just from watching it on television, it seems like the green is very firm. You basically just have to bail out right. You're coming in with a long iron and there's water short, left and over the green, so you could be hitting a good shot and it might go through. That's a hole that's going to be a really key hole coming in.

As I said, I've still got to see the back nine, but it's a course where you've got to play your shots. You've got to have your course management. At times I've seen the 9th hole, you can maybe go with a 3-wood and come in with a 4-iron or hit a driver and come in with an 8-iron, so you've got options on the course.

Q. Vijay is in a bit of a drought right now. Have you seen anything in his game in the times you may have played together in practice or tournaments? That's the first part of the question. And secondly, how difficult is it do you think to sustain your play at such a high level for such a long time?

ERNIE ELS: Well, first of all, I think -- I haven't played with Vijay -- I don't think I've played with him this year, so I can't comment on that.

What kind of a drought has he got? Since winning --

Q. Since last July. For a lot of guys it would be nothing, but compared to the level he was at, the results aren't coming as easily.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think it answers your second part. I think to play that level -- I think he won nine or ten times that one year, two years ago. He's been a top player for the last ten years, and we all work on our swings, we change things. I'm busy changing a couple things in my swing. So we keep working and then we're trying to get better basically, and sometimes you get worse trying to get better. You've just got to give it some time, be patient for it to turn around, and when it does turn you feel like you can start winning again.

I haven't spoken to Vijay much about his game or anything like that, but I'm sure that's what's happening; he's making some changes and it's taking a bit of time to take effect.

Q. Your own game, have you detected anything from say January on, whether it's the driving, long game, short game, putting that's lagged behind, or has it been a case of this is down this week, this is down another week?

ERNIE ELS: I think my own game, ever since I started playing the Tour full-time, so to speak, since the LA Open, that's been my first real Tour experience since my injury. So to play kind of week in and week out and a week here, kind of getting back on the horse, so to speak, following the Tour around, doing practice rounds, working out, it's been a big change physically because last year when I came back, I played in South Africa, just a couple tournaments, then I had a month off, then I played the Middle East and I had another couple weeks off.

So getting back full-time has been a big adjustment physically. I've had to work on my physical fitness in certain parts and obviously on my game. From my injury a couple of little nagging silly little mistakes crept into my swing, which I've had to really try to work out. So I've been busy doing that the last couple of weeks.

Q. Where does it affect it?

ERNIE ELS: Well, coming through the shot, I tend to stay away from the left knee so you clear your left side earlier and then you're out of sync with your arms coming through, your upper body coming through, and there's no left side. I've had to really work on keeping my left side through the shot, which is sometimes tough to do.

Q. Was there actual pain on the left side or was it in your head?

ERNIE ELS: You know, it's pain here and there, but it's basically getting the brain to trust it, you know.

Q. Vijay said that you guys were in the gym yesterday, the day before, together.


Q. You didn't try to keep up with him I imagine. Can you compare your routines?

ERNIE ELS: You know, he's got his routine, I've got my routine. He's been working with a guy. I've got a guy I work with who's traveling with me now. He's from London. He's been working with me through my injury, and so -- I mean, he was working out last night, I was just getting a bit of massage and stretch.

Q. Yours is still physical therapy intensive?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, both, physical therapy still, and I'm trying to get stronger.

Q. What are your recollections of Winged Foot?

ERNIE ELS: My hole-in-one, the hole-in-one I made on the 10th hole, the third round. The rest of the week wasn't great. I played four rounds, but I was so tired from winning the U.S. Open, I didn't quite play great there, but it's a great golf course.

Q. Is it your kind of U.S. Open course?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that's a typical U.S. Open course, yeah. But the high rough, it's got old tradition to it, it's got very fast, undulating greens, not a lot of water hazards, just pure golf. That's Winged Foot.

Q. Is that your favorite of the styles of the big, rough, tree-lined as opposed to a Pinehurst?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, definitely.

Q. Do you think both short and long hitters could win here or do you think it's more of a long hitters' course?

ERNIE ELS: This course here, no, this is a great mix. As I said before, you can plan your strategy, depending on wind conditions and stuff like that. But you need to get it in the fairway, you need to get it in the right part of the fairway and get it into the greens. This is a test -- will test the whole Tour. The guy that plays the best golf this week will win here.

Q. For the second year Michelle Wie is going to try to qualify for the U.S. Open. As a sports fan, as a golf fan, is it something you'd be interested in seeing, her actually making it?

ERNIE ELS: You know, it's her personal choice, really. I mean, I think her dream is to one day play in probably all four men's majors, and that's the way she grew up. She probably wants to play The Masters, she wants to play the U.S. Open, and so forth. You know, she wants to see how she does against the best players in the world.

You know, you've got to give her credit. She's 16, she's really coming on nicely now, but, I mean, at least this one she's qualifying for, she's not taking a spot from anybody. She's got to go through regional qualifying and then sectional qualifying -- sectional qualifying and then regional qualifying. She's doing all the right things on this one, and hopefully she makes it. That's her personal choice.

Q. Could you talk about the game of your countryman Tim Clark? He kind of seemed to fly under the radar for people for a long time, and this year, especially in major championships, he's shown his game is at that elite level.

ERNIE ELS: It definitely is. He's really proven that the last couple of years. His major record is already really good. He finished well at the U.S. Open last year, Masters this year. This is a great course for him this week. He drives it so well, great iron play, so you might see him there this week. Yeah, he's not under the radar screen anymore as you mentioned. I think he's one of the top players now, and I think his expectations will also be a little bit higher now.

JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Ernie, for joining us. Appreciate your time.

End of FastScripts.

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