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July 21, 2006

Ernie Els


STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, Ernie Els, 65 today for a total of 11 under par and second place in the clubhouse.

Ernie, that was a pretty long afternoon. Are you satisfied about your score? Obviously, tell us about it.

ERNIE ELS: I really enjoyed myself today. I played some solid golf. Obviously I hit some good shots and I felt good on the greens. I putted nicely today. I made some good saving putts and obviously made some good birdie putts.

All in all, I tried to play the course quite conservatively. If there were fairway bunkers that I couldn't fly with my driver I was laying up short and leaving myself shots from the fairway. At times when I could be aggressive I was. I kind of timed it well today. But I really enjoyed the round, obviously.

Q. Just wondering when you start off in the afternoon and Tiger has posted the number he has, and he's surged that far up, what is the mindset? Do you have to stay patient and try not to get too much back

ERNIE ELS: Absolutely, exactly. I saw the score, and obviously he's a great player, but if he's 12 under, there's some birdies to be made out there. I felt I had to get my share of them. I had a nice warmup and I felt good about my swing, and as I say, I felt even yesterday I was playing nicely. So I didn't feel the urge of pushing too much too soon or trying to hit too much of a perfect shot. I gave myself good looks at the hole from 20 and 30 feet, and I made some of those.

The mindset before is always to play a solid round. And I didn't think I was going to shoot 65, but I needed to get something in the 60s.

Q. Is this the first time you've felt actually sort of injury free? You made reference to it just a few minutes ago. Would you mind giving us a few details just how bad it's been over the last few months?

ERNIE ELS: It's been pretty tough. It's been almost a year now and I've had a rough time with the game and the injuries. So I feel, like I said a couple of days ago, physically fine. There's really no problem. At the moment that's good. But I've done a lot of hard work physically on that and on my golf game. So it's been a tough 12 months, to be honest with you.

But I'm ready to play now again and I'm in really a nice position now, so I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Q. Could you give us an example of one of the holes you talked about where you were conservative where maybe you could have been aggressive and it worked out and an example of a hole where you got aggressive and you were conservative earlier in the week?

ERNIE ELS: I think the first three holes, it's so well bunkered, but the first hole you can go with a 3 iron off the tee, I went with a driver to take the left bunker out of play. I hit a pretty good shot there. I made par. But that was one of the places where I was aggressive off the tee.

Then 2 and 3 I just hit irons off the tee. On 2 I had, I think, a 5 iron for my second shot, which is way back there. It's only how long is the hole 430, 436.

And another hole was 3 where I just ironed it down and hit a really good second shot.

But the par 5s obviously you want to be aggressive on. And some of the par 4s, like No. 8, you can really go at that flag, come in with a short iron there, 8 iron or 9 iron.

And a hole like 14, I saw Tiger hole his second shot there. That must have been an unbelievable shot, because I hit a 4 iron myself and I thought I had a great shot to about 16 feet left of the hole and I made birdie there. I thought it was my best hole of my day.

But those are the situations, you know, you lay back and leave yourself a second shot.

Q. Considering everything you've been through in the last year, is being on the weekend with Tiger Woods exactly what you need, or would you rather it be someone else?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm just happy to be in this position. Today when I started getting on a roll I didn't want to back down. I really was trying to get into this final group. I haven't been in this position for a while. It's great to be here, to be honest with you, and I wasn't going to back down today. I've been through too much to go off right now. I really tried to get as low as I could, which I did. I'll just go out there and play my game.

I've played with Tiger so many times. Obviously he's a great player of our generation and I've got to do my thing, play my game, play to my strengths and we'll shake hands at the end, I know that (laughter). I've just got to do my thing and just try and stay on top of things.

Q. Did you have the same game plan yesterday or did you are you committed to a game plan or do you change it every day?

ERNIE ELS: I changed it a little bit today. The wind was in a little bit of a different direction today, so I might have been a little bit more conservative on a lot of the tees today than I was yesterday.

So it depends on the breeze tomorrow. Obviously with this breeze the front nine played really short. Some of the holes were downwind and you could really get a nice score going. On the back nine there were some holes into the wind like 11, 12, 13, 14 and 18. So you had to play a bit more conservatively there. I changed it a little bit from yesterday to today.

Q. I'm just wondering, before you hurt yourself you were part of the, what we I guess created as the top the Big Four, Big Five, whatever it may be. While you were out, obviously Phil made a little bit of a move and it became the Big Two. Can you discuss your hunger to get back up to that so called elite and obviously this is a step here?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. I think Phil has done exceptionally well. Up to this point I think he's been the "major man," so to speak. He's done the best of all the players in the majors. So he's really done his homework.

I've been a good player myself for a long time. I've taken a bit of a dip in form and so forth, but I've worked hard to get back. And I really just want to take it one round at a time, to be honest with you. I'm in a great position now. We'll talk after this week and see what happens after this week. If I'm in your top five again, that would be great. Maybe I'll be in your top three, who knows.

Q. I didn't say you weren't.

ERNIE ELS: No, but I just am going to take it day by day.

Q. As much as you wanted to specifically get in the final group, how important is it going into the weekend to be only one behind Tiger as opposed to three or four, given his history of protecting leads?

ERNIE ELS: Exactly and that's what I was thinking, especially on the back nine. I didn't want to get crazy aggressive, but I needed to keep the pedal, you know, foot on the pedal, or whatever you call it. So I needed to try and get close to him. As you know and as I know, he's quite a good front runner, so you need to kind of reach out and try and hold him back. It will be very tough to do, but you need to get close to him. He's not going to back down from a lead.

Q. We've been asking and you've been talking about your knee probably since January. This is the first time I can recall you specifically saying how rough it's been. Have you just not wanted to talk about it previously? You can now. Could you elaborate on what's been so difficult, beyond the physical side?

ERNIE ELS: I don't really want to we're competitors, and when we compete at this level, you don't want to say how bad things are; you want to say how good things are. I felt the knee for a long time, but what's the use of me saying it's not good? It's not going to do me any good; it's not going to do anybody any good. So you don't want to say how terrible things are.

Q. It's no excuse?

ERNIE ELS: Exactly. We all play with little niggles through time. I had a bad back for a while and now it's great. But when it's bad you play through injuries a lot of times. I'm sure there's a lot of guys in the locker room right now with some kind of an ailment and he's not talking about it. That's just sport.

Q. Do you feel you've turned the corner?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely, yeah.

Q. Did that corner happen any time soon or recently?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, after the U.S. Open, U.S. Open it felt good, and I had a couple of really good weeks at home. I kind of got the drive back and I feel that the injury is something of the past now. So I would say very recently, the last month or so.

Q. Once you've been there at the elite and then you slip a little bit because of your injury or whatever, do you think it's easier to get back because you know what it's like than reaching for the first time?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, sure. I mean, an injury is an injury. I just want to get over it and stand work on my swing with Lead and I just want to play good golf; that's basically what I want to do. I want to try to play as good as I can and play to my level or even better than that and see where it goes.

Q. You're not basically there's some guys that are a little tentative. You must believe that you belong there once you get it going?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. I've been playing at a pretty decent level for a long time. I've played with the likes of Norman and Price and Freddie and with Tiger now and Vijay and all these great players of our generation, so I've played with a lot of them. If I play to my ability I can compete with them.

Q. By turning the corner, has that given you an extra boost to go out and take on Tiger over the weekend?

ERNIE ELS: I know where you're going with this (laughter). Let me put it this way, I'm playing nicely. Obviously after the 65 you feel quite confident. And as I said, my injury is something of the past now and I've done the work and I just want to try and play as good as I can over the weekend, full stop.

STEWART McDOUGALL: Thank you very much.

End of FastScripts.

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