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July 18, 2006

Ernie Els


STEWART McDOUGALL: Ernie, thank you for coming across after your round this morning.

The links course here at Hoylake has very dry conditions; how is it playing as far as you are concerned? How do you see the whole thing panning out?

ERNIE ELS: As you say, it's very dry and it's obviously very warm. You guys might feel very comfortable inside, but where we work it's quite warm out there. They obviously put a lot of water on the greens this morning. The greens were you could see there was a lot of moisture in them. Obviously they're trying to save them for the Championship.

But, yeah, this is links golf and it's going to be really pure links golf this week. The ball is running a long way on the fairways. To keep the ball in play there's a lot of 3 woods off the tees, irons, even, to keep the ball in play. Obviously on the par 5s you want to use a driver. But the rest of the time you're just trying to you get something in play on the fairway and from there you take your chances.

I think the golf course is so well bunkered that even with these conditions, you've still got to be careful about running into some of these pot bunkers in the fairways. Although it's playing short, you've got to be careful.

Q. You played here many years ago as an amateur. Do you have any particular memories of that?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I had a couple of weeks off before the Scottish Open and I came up here a couple of times. And the first time I played it since 1988 was about two, three weeks ago and I don't remember much. I remember then the first hole, which is our third hole, obviously with the out of bounds, I remember a couple of holes on the back nine. But I guess it was a very long time ago; it was almost 20 years ago. But I remember winning that tournament in a playoff, but that's about it. I can't remember the winning score or anything.

There's a beautiful picture in the clubhouse if you want to see. I haven't changed much.

Q. Can you just speak a little bit about your game coming into the tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm hitting the ball quite nicely. I've done some good work with Lead, even before last week's tournament, and I felt at times last week I played as good as I ever have, tee to green. I'm a little frustrated with the putter here and there.

But I really feel good about my game. I played this morning and I hit the ball quite solidly. I'm really looking forward to the week. I feel like my game is just about where I want it to be.

Q. Anything in particular that you worked on?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, you know, my swing, I got into a couple of bad positions, especially on the backswing. And I just made it worse, you know, going through the swing. So I had to get into better positions going back, taking the club back.

Last week was a big week for me, I did a lot of work on the range before and after the rounds. Now it feels very natural, the changes that I have made. And I'm swinging well; I'm striking it nicely.

Q. Is that a legacy of the knee injury, if you like, sort of the breakdown of the swing or whatever, to get you into those bad positions that you now had to cure?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I wouldn't disagree, but Lead, he said because of the knee, when I was still I don't want to put all my weight on to the knee, on the downswing. I didn't quite complete my backswing because I was just subconsciously I think I was just trying to stay away from the knee. And doing that got me into those situations, where I got into that classic stuck position, and from there, you know, I hit it either right or left. And I really didn't hit the ball very well at the U.S. Open. I don't know where I finished, but I really wasn't feeling comfortable. And he felt because of the knee I wasn't swinging properly, so we worked on that.

Q. How important will patience be this week?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean today I tried to play the course the way I'll play it when the tournament starts on Thursday. I lot of times I wanted to go with a driver, and Ricci is like, no, no, take this iron, just get it in play. Because there's places out there where you feel like you can try and drive it over those bunkers, like on the first, second, the fourth.

On the first there's a bunker at 285 out there on the left, and if you don't quite catch it properly you're going to be in there. So you could hit iron off the first.

The second there's bunkers to the right, so you can have a go at it, but if you miss the shot you're making bogey. So there's a lot of risk/reward on this course, which makes it a really wonderful layout.

Q. If you're to win here on Sunday, would we see an Ashes style party from yourself, and would Freddie Flintoff be invited along?

ERNIE ELS: You'll have to come to South Africa because I'm booked, I'm flying out Sunday night to go to South Africa. So if you want to come and join the party down there, you're more than welcome.

I think Freddie has got to play cricket. He's a little busy. I've got to go with him, anyway.

Q. If the conditions stay as they are, does it really open it up to loads more people to win this week?

ERNIE ELS: Well, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? Yeah, I think this tournament reminds me a lot of St. Annes, with the bunkering. It's not a very long course, so you can go with an iron or the aggressive route with the driver. So it really suits all the players, doesn't it? It's the guy that's very accurate and straight and maybe shorter and the guy that's a bit more adventurous. The course lends itself to that kind of play, too.

So it's tough to say, you know. At the end of the day it's the guy that scores the best. Right now you'll take four rounds under 70, you'll be very close. Who knows what the winning score is going to be. If you get really hot on your putter and you're making everything, you can shoot a good number around here. But to do it for four days in a row is going to be tough. So there's enough trouble out there for the guy that's a little off.

Q. I think it was nine years ago that you won your second U.S. Open, and but as you sit here now, do you feel that you should have more majors to your name than the three that you do?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I mean the easy part is to say yes, you know, because I've had been close many times, second or top five or top 10. But it's really difficult to win a major at times. I think 2004 was some of the best golf I've played in major championship golf and I didn't get anything for it.

Who knows what's around the corner. You try and prepare for each one, you try and play your best golf and you try to do the right thing, and it hasn't happened for a while for me. But you've just got to keep going. But, yeah, I've definitely been close a couple of times and a putt here and there can win the thing.

Q. You mentioned the 2, 2, 9, 4 a couple of years ago, that was a difficult pill to swallow. Can you tell us how long it took for you to get that close that often?

ERNIE ELS: The one that hurts the most was at the Masters, because I've been off of that one for such a long time. And we almost played almost flawless golf that Sunday, but it didn't happen for me. So that one is still in the memory, believe it or not. But the other ones I basically, other than I didn't play good enough or I made mistakes.

Like the U.S. Open that time I shot, that final round, 80. And then The Open Championship at Troon, I had a couple of chances with the putter and I didn't quite do it. But looking back after that year, yeah, you feel like you let something go. That's sometimes tough to handle. But I've moved on and I'm ready for this one.

Q. Kind of curious just where you are in your overall life right now. We've seen with a lot of great players that they transition at some point; Nicklaus moves into the design business, Arnold Palmer moves into the business. Can you talk about that? Not the specific ventures that you're doing, but if you're finding it a challenge to balance that with your golf, et cetera?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's true. You get other interests at some point, and I would say the last two years those interests have become kind of a business, you know. You've got to be careful.

Golf is still my life. That is the core of my life. And without golf I couldn't see myself sitting in an office right now and doing those other things that we are busy with. I've got people in place that are running those different interests. I'm basically sitting back and they're reporting back to me, which is kind of a nice situation to be in. But before I got to this situation where I am now, you had to set it up. And it takes time and it takes a bit of concentration. I wouldn't say that it affected my game. I would say the time that I had off away from the game gave me a lot of time to do those different things.

So I think it's pretty well set up right now, and as I said, golf is everything for me now. I've got a good ten years to do what I've always wanted to do. I'm really just 100 percent playing golf right now.

Q. 100 percent golf?


Q. You mentioned your putting earlier. How far back do you trace those problems, and is it a stroke issue, an alignment issue, a feel issue? Can you kind of expand on that?

ERNIE ELS: I think it was a feel issue and technical issue. I've corrected that. I feel the technical side the strike of the putt and my alignment is pretty good. I think it's more of a case where if I make a couple, I feel I'm going to make a lot. It's just getting over that little edge.

I've always been a pretty good putter. I just need to start making some and seeing the ball going in the hole. And I think I'll make a lot thank goodness this week it's not U.S. Open greens or Augusta greens. The greens are I won't say slow, but you can be quite aggressive with your putts, and there's not a lot of break. So touch wood, maybe this week I'll make a lot, because it feels okay.

Q. How far back did that problem when did that problem really arise?

ERNIE ELS: Just probably on the West Coast, basically. I still putted pretty well in Dubai, and the greens were pretty good there. When I got to the West Coast I for some reason was sort of missing something.

Q. I saw a chart about how you, Tiger, Mickelson, Vijay and Goosen have dominated the top 10 finishes in majors since I think 2000. Do you think it's now the Big Two with Tiger and Mickelson?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think the last couple of years I think Phil has really differently found a way of playing major championship golf and performing well. He's probably got the best record. And obviously Tiger, if his mind is 100 percent on golf this week, he's probably the guy to beat again. That's a talent.

The other guys, I think Goose, he's got a great record. I think he's finished top 10 probably for the last two or three years now, in almost every major. So he's really got himself in a nice groove. And Vijay, the same thing.

I think with the experience that we've picked up through the years playing major championship golf, you find a way of playing a golf course and finding a way to get yourself on the leaderboard. And we all know that the guy that's leading the first round is not normally the guy that's going to win the tournament. You've just got to keep battling away and try to get yourself in contention.

Q. You mentioned Mickelson has found a way to play majors. Is that anything worrying about, or do you not have that many rounds in you?

ERNIE ELS: Obviously that's his way of preparing and it's working for him, and Tiger has his way, I've got my way, Vijay has his way. The guys, thank goodness we're all different, you know? And I was out here three weeks ago, the first time I came out here, I came in on I think it was a Wednesday and they asked me to come sign in the book, the club book, and I saw Phil's name there. That was like the Tuesday after the U.S. Open, basically.

And I was like, you know, what's is he playing today? And they said, no, he was here two days ago. And that kind of surprised me a little bit. He's played the course many times. That's the way he wants to prepare. He wants to see the course a million times. That's his way right now. We're all different.

I normally just play my three practice rounds and that's enough.

Q. Have you done anything different this year?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, I had so much time off after the U.S. Open and from London up here in a helicopter was 45 minutes, so I came up a couple of times and played the course. I had nothing else to do.

Q. There was a story I think on line in The Guardian talking about things like saying that your knee would never be 100 percent again and how you don't like the nickname "Big Easy." I'm just wondering if we talk about your swing and your putting stroke and all that stuff, is this lull you're having right now, do you see it more as a technical thing or more as an emotional, mental thing with all the things you had to deal with in 2004 and then the knee in 2005?

ERNIE ELS: I think it's a bit of both. I would say my knee is really good now, really good now, and it's almost been a year, almost to the day, when I hurt it. So it's taken quite a while. But it really feels good now. I started the year up through The Masters and I felt it quite a bit.

And I think with all of that, with the knee, I think my swing did suffer a little bit because I was trying to stay away from the knee. You can't do that in a golf swing, you've got to go left. You can't hit the golf ball from the right side. I think it had a little bit to do with this little slump I'm in. And as the knee feels better I can get into better positions in my swing, and I think it's now only a matter of time before things are going to turn around. I feel confident about my abilities now again. As I say, I've done the work, now it's just a matter of time before I do something good again.

Q. Just to follow up, did your confidence erode during the beginning of this year, starting with not scoring like you normally do?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think golf is all about scoring, isn't it? Even if you're not playing great but if you're scoring well, your confidence stays up. And I think, obviously I haven't hit the ball well and I haven't putted very well, so that means your scoring is going to go slow. And I think my confidence did slide a little bit because I didn't score well. You can hide a lot of things if you're scoring good.

So as I say, now I just need to start swinging it around, and I think I'm on the right track now.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Thank you very much.

End of FastScripts.

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