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September 30, 2003

Ernie Els


GORDON SIMPSON: Ernie, you came up just short on Sunday despite a great finish. Clearly based on that tournament, there's not much wrong with your game at the moment.

ERNIE ELS: Yes, it was good. I had a good week. I enjoy Links Golf, especially playing with any dad. My brother was also there last week, and we played some practice rounds together, and it kind of reminded me of how we grew up, playing with my brother and my dad over weekends. It was something that I will always remember. It was nice doing that last week again, especially Tuesday and Wednesday, and then obviously on Thursday I played with my dad. I was a little rusty. I took my little girl down to South Africa the weekend before to go visit her grandma, and I actually wanted to go see my grandfather, who's 95, so we went down there, and I didn't do any practicing before. So I was a bit rusty on Thursday at the first course, Carnoustie, shot even there, but after that I played well, made good putts and felt I hit the ball well. Probably lost the tournament on Saturday afternoon making double at Kings Barns on 18, but other than that, for three days I think I only made the one double and one bogey, so I played well.

I played nine holes here this morning, beautiful weather, but these greens are very, very fast. This is probably the fastest I've ever seen any greens run. They are really true, really good, but very firm, and you cannot spin the ball back. A couple of holes I hit beautiful 60-degree shots. You can just hear the ball fizzing through the air, and when it hits the ground it goes forward. There's no way you're going to spin the ball back this week. Accuracy is going to be very important off the tees, and if you're going to miss a shot you'd better miss it in the right places, otherwise no chance of making pars.

Q. Fastest greens in the state of Georgia?

ERNIE ELS: Absolutely, even faster than you-know-where. These things are really true. They're big greens, which is true to Georgia, again, huge putting surfaces, but very, very fast and very firm.

Q. Are they silly fast?

ERNIE ELS: If they're like this, I mean, you can't get them any faster I don't think. They're really good. It's nice to putt on greens like that again. We only do it once a year, maybe twice a year at the U.S. Opens, but normally we get a lot of rain at the U.S. Opens, but Masters and here, very fast.

Q. Do you think that the rough is pretty tough just off the fairways? Is that fair or do you think it should be a little bit --

ERNIE ELS: No, you were out there. I mean, I missed the one fairway, 9, it was a long par 4, 475, and you have to hit driver. I hit it just left, and the rest -- it's that soft grass, that Bermuda. It all goes down, can't get the ball to the green. You've just got to lay it up to some kind of a yardage and take it from there. Some of the holes are short, but some of the par 4s are pretty short, so you can hit a 2-iron and 3-wood to the middle of the fairway and go with a middle iron or a short iron to the green, but you've got to be very, very careful where you're placing the second shots.

Q. What do you think about a winning score?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's a par 70, and last week somebody was shooting 20, 30 under par. You're not going to see that, I promise you. It's going to be a very good taste of golf, a fair taste. It's going to be nothing like Mt. Juliet last year.

Q. The fifth hole, the short par 4, did you hit driver there?


Q. Did you reach it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I hit it over the green. Even there you're coming straight down the green. There's a bunker short of the green right, so it's really difficult to hit it on the putting surface, but you can reach it. I'll just hit a 3-wood down there short of the green and enough for a good pitch there. The green is very undulating. Again, you've got to have the right strategy on some of these holes.

GORDON SIMPSON: Is that a source of frustration for you, that WGC Events.

ERNIE ELS: I haven't really played well in them ever. I haven't really been in contention in one of them. I'd like to change that obviously. I haven't played well at the Match Play -- well, the one time in Australia, I had a pretty nice round there, but I haven't played well in this one or any of the other ones. I'm not quite sure what the reasoning is behind that, but I'd like to start playing better in these tournaments. They are really important golf tournaments, and the best players play in them.

Q. Ernie, the ones there were still pretty easy relative to the way they're going to be. Are they tough?

ERNIE ELS: Well, as I say, some of the short par 4s here, you're coming in short irons, but when they tuck them, as I say again, you've got to be careful. A lot of them have runoffs at the back of the green and side of the greens. You get too overly aggressive and you miss it on that side, some of them have almost a Donald Ross feel to them. I know Tom Fazio designed this, but you've got to be very, very careful. The caddies are going to have a bit of a tough week this week, I think, to get the right distance to the hole.

Q. You're probably not even aware of this, but you got the second longest streak of consecutive cuts in a row over here. It's in the 20s. At its current pace Tiger will tie the record at Disney, which is 113. Can you even conceive of that number and what that means week in and week out?

ERNIE ELS: That's pretty good. That's very impressive. That's one thing we don't want to think about too much is making the cut. We can't this week. But yeah, that's very impressive. It shows you when he comes to play, he's ready to play.

I think at the Masters this year he was the closest to missing the cut. He made a big putt there on 9, an eight- footer down the hill to make the cut. But very, very impressive. I don't think any of us will break that record, to be honest with you. I think that one will stand for a while.

Q. (Inaudible). Can you give us an insight into the feeling in the locker room when a player you've had battles with, good battles with, goes through a slump and then comes back? Is it something that you feel happy for him -- (inaudible)

RNIE ELS: I was happy for him in Germany, but I wasn't happy for him last week. I think he played great down the stretch. I started watching -- when I was waiting for him to finish, I watched him play 17 and 18. He two-putted 16 from a very long ways away. Lee is a special player. He's a very special talent in golf. He's going to have a very impressive record when it comes to winning and closing the deal. I think he's almost won 30 events on the European tour and he's at a three-year slump. That tells you when he's on, he's really good, and I think last week must have proved a lot to him because the way he finished, he couldn't make any mistakes, and playing 17, he finished the job well, and I think that he's truly out of his slump now.

If anybody thought Germany was a fluke, he's back to his best golf again. It's great for the European tour. People forget how good he really was, and if he plays the same golf again like he did in 2000, he can challenge anybody.

Q. Do you think people have already forgotten how good Duval was?

ERNIE ELS: Exactly. You guys and some of us, we have very short memories. When you look at players who -- I mean, Lee and David goes hand in hand, David every year winning 12 times in two years or something, and Lee winning 24, I remember, something like that in three years. These guys are great players. Lee has come out of his slump and there's no reason why David shouldn't come out of his. Every other player goes into a little bit of a slump. It doesn't mean that you're gone. You can always come back. It's great to see. It shows a lot of character, and I think it shows other players that you can turn it around.

Q. When you see someone else going through a slump, do you ever think, ³There but for the grace of God go I?²

ERNIE ELS: Well, I kind of went through a little bit of that I think in '98, and it always starts with something. Mine started with a little bit of an injury, which I tried to play through, thought it would go away and it just got worse, and then eventually after the '99 Masters, I took five weeks off, and I kind of went back and got everything sorted that I had to get sorted and then came back with a better attitude towards the game and myself, but it goes from person to person. You just keep working, and in the back of your mind, yes, you gotta believe that you're going to get it back and play even better.

Q. If the average guy looked at your travel itinerary for the year, he'd probably just get tired reading it. For yourself, do you have to guard against that? Is it overwhelming to you at all to think of all the places you've been in the world this year, or has it become routine to you to where it's really not even that big of a deal?

ERNIE ELS: You guys are writing a lot about it this year for some reason. I've been doing it for eight years now. Sure, I think there was one trip that got a little bit out of hand, when I went to Singapore from Hawaii and then back to Australia. That was tough.

The rest of the stuff, I've been doing it since I've been playing. It was really hard leaving London yesterday, saying goodbye to the family and leaving because my little girl is at an age where she's just so great. My boy is almost one-year-old now, and we're really set where we are right now, and it's really getting more difficult leaving. My schedule will probably start changing quite dramatically next year. I still think I'm going to play Hawaii, those first two events, and then I'm still contracted to do the Heineken Classic and the Johnnie Walker.

Then I'm going to try and play different events next year a little bit. I'm really trying to work my daughter's schedule with mine and do it that way. I still would like to play more in America, and I think from next year onwards it will probably start happening.

Q. For the most part, though, do you enjoy it? Do you like getting to all these different places? Obviously you probably wouldn't do it if you didn't.

ERNIE ELS: Well, absolutely. I think in a sense playing in Australia that time of the year is better for my game than playing the West Coast. I did the West Coast a couple years, I think I did it two or three years, and I didn't really enjoy it much. It feels like the days are really short. The weather is not great. We play great golf courses, but they're never in really great condition. It's impossible to get them in good condition because if it's wet you just get those hill marks.

Anyway, I like taking the family and we go. In Australia we play at Royal Melbourne, I think it's top five in the world, good weather, good practice facilities. They look after you unbelievably so. I feel I get more out of my game being down there, the only thing is getting there. It's a hell of a long way to go. But so far I've really enjoyed it.

Q. You mentioned London. Do you consider that now your, quote, home? If you had to pick one, is that it? That's where your kids are going to go to school?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. We've kind of established that now. It's very central. Sometimes unfortunately -- I wasn't born here. If I was born here, I would stay here. My family is not here, and it's easier for me to travel from London down to South Africa than to come here. I mean the weather sucks, believe me (laughter), but there's a lot of stuff -- there's so much that we have in common, South Africans, that kind of the way of life is more what I'm used to. My wife is happy there and my kids are happy there.

Q. But you said you were going to play less in Europe.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, my schedule is probably going to change. It's easier to keep my card in Europe because I just have to play seven events, so it's easy to do that. I have to start reducing my play.

Q. (Inaudible).

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, next September it's going to be really tough for us to take her out of school because then she's legally bound.

Q. She's going to go to school in England?


Q. What's going on with your house?


Q. In Wentworth.

ERNIE ELS: I'm getting it redone for the second time. We moved out for a couple of months. I've got to sort it out.

Q. Water damage?

ERNIE ELS: A little rising damp problem, which is also, as the boys will tell you, very common there.

Q. You just mentioned that London or England has a lot in common with where you're from. Is there anything in the U.S. that you still have a hard time getting used to or is there anything here that you really, really like that you don't get to experience?

ERNIE ELS: No, I would love to live here, to stay here, but there's a couple of other factors which I don't want to mention that comes into the equation. It's easier with the situation in London, the way they've got it set up in England, than over here. That's a big factor also, and then it's just a little bit too far away. We still have a house in Orlando. I'll keep the house in Orlando. We'll still spend close to four months of the year here, which is a lot, and that's that. I love the way of life here. I like the people here. I mean, it's a great place to live, even raise your kids, but we just feel more comfortable over there. That's just the way it is.

. Are you envious of the good old days where you could take a three-month winter break?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I am. Times have changed, I'll tell you, the last couple of years. I speak a lot to Pricey and he's made a lot of input, but you've still got to live your life and live the way that you're comfortable with. That's just the way it is.

Q. There must be a lot of weeks when you're playing when you wish you weren't playing.

ERNIE ELS: I don't want to think that. When I play, I've got to play. I've got to be ready to play. I cannot think about anything else. I mean, leaving last night wasn't easy, but I'm here now and I'm focusing in on what I have to do, and we'll think about the other stuff later. That's one of the things I judge myself working is I've got to be ready to work, otherwise I'm just wasting energy and time.

Q. So you've been guilty of that in the past?

A. I think years ago, yeah, probably three or four years ago I was maybe -- I made some mistakes like that, but not anymore.

Q. You will go back right after this event?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, Sunday night. I've got the week off next week and then the Match Play.

Q. And then you'll come back again?

ERNIE ELS: I'll probably bring the family to Disney and Tampa, and then I'll go back and go on to Tour Championship, and then from there we'll go down to South Africa, get the house ready for the party, The Presidents Cup.

Q. What would give you more personal satisfaction, winning the Order of Merit or winning the Worldwide Money List, which is not official, but obviously something --

ERNIE ELS: I haven't given that a thought, either. It doesn't really matter to me a whole lot. I just want to play as good as I can and try and become number one. That's basically it. I think if you play well enough and try and become number one, I think all the other stuff will be there, so I don't think money is really the driving force right now.

Q. Has this been in your mind your best sustained stretch of golf dating back to, I guess, December of last year, I suppose? It's been pretty high in terms of sustained golf over the stretch, including last week and before that Cindy Crawford?

ERNIE ELS: That was nice (laughter). I've been playing well this year, but I've also had many disappointments, especially in the majors. I don't feel that I played some of my best golf there, especially some of the starts I had in my major tournaments this year. All in all, it's been quite consistent, but I was quite frustrated in a lot of my majors with myself and my game and stuff, but it worked out okay. I finished a lot of times top ten, but I've had a consistent year, and I think I would like to think the best is still coming. I think I've just got to sustain a certain level of play and then hopefully we can break through pretty soon and really break out. I've just got to keep going, keep grinding. I feel that my best stuff can still come. Maybe playing more like I played at the start of the year.

Q. The theory on that is that since you're from the other side of the Equator your summertime is in our winter, so you tear it up like November, December, January when they're just getting started here.

ERNIE ELS: No, not really.

Q. When you say you want to try and become number one, would you look at that in terms of ranking terms or what do you consider, major wins?

ERNIE ELS: Well, if you keep playing the way you should play, the way I should play, the way I should play is I should play every round as good as I can and give it my best shot, and at the end of the day if I keep doing that, I think tournament wins and top fives, top tens will be there, and you keep doing that, one of these days you'll break through, and that's what we're working on. It's not like you're just going to go from here and just jump to number one. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work and effort, and if you keep going and doing that, I think at the end of the day, you might get there. It's not going to be easy. Tiger is not going away. He's going to come back strong. He's on top enough to know what he has to do to win again. He's a tough man, but I've got to just keep going.

Q. How many years do you think of top-shelf golf do you have? Ten?

RNIE ELS: Ten. If I get ten, I'm very lucky, very happy. If it's five, that's fine, too.

Q. There's been a lot of talk lately with the number of guys in their 40s winning over here, 13 times this year, but you rarely see them win the biggies. Why is that?

ERNIE ELS: It's quite interesting. I'm not sure. I mean, you know, I think these guys are still good enough. I played with Nick Price last week. I played three rounds with him, and he plays like that every week. I think eventually your short game is not as sharp as maybe the guys in their 20s. I think that is the bottom line. I think the guys in their 40s probably still hit the ball better than they did in their 20s, but I think some of these guys get on hot streaks with their putters and hole everything, up-and-down from everywhere. I think those guys just don't do that enough when it's really tough, when the greens are firm and fast. I think eventually the nerves -- it's there. It's just the way it is out there.

Q. (Inaudible).

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think your hot streaks are shorter than they used to be.

Q. What about the strength of the field? Not to denigrate it, but some of these tournaments are --

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I don't want to go into that too much. I think there's definitely kind of two tours. When the guys are playing, most of the guys -- you take The Memorial and you take the Byron Nelson, Colonial, and then you take the 84 Lumber tournament and the John Deere, it's two different tours, isn't it, but taking nothing away from these guys, they shoot the numbers and they win the golf tournaments, but there's a difference there, and I think we know what that is.

Q. Do you have an opinion on the Player of the Year on the PGA TOUR? There's so many guys with a shot for the first time in a long time.

ERNIE ELS: There's quite a few guys as you say. You've got to look at Jim Furyk, all the top tens he's had, major champion and two other wins, I think. David Toms, Mike Weir obviously. I think Jim Furyk and Mike Weir, and then Tiger winning four times, a bunch of top tens. Vijay Singh right now, too, but this is a big event this week, and obviously Tour Championship is very big and some tournaments in between. If somebody gets hot now, some of those players, they'll walk away with it.

Q. You said earlier this year that one of the things you considered are performances in the majors. How much does missing the cut in a major take away from how you might cast your vote? Is that a big black mark?

ERNIE ELS: I think so, yeah. I think the four majors are obviously the four most important of the year. Obviously a guy that's won a major -- you know how much goes into winning a major championship. It's twice as much work in a major championship than any other tournament, so missing the cut, you work for two days instead of working for four days and working all that pressure. Major championship takes so much more than other tournaments. Yeah, I would definitely vote for the guy that's done better in majors.

Q. Do you think Vi jay might get hurt in the ballot by -- are there certain guys on the Tour that he's unpopular with? He seems to be okay with you guys --

ERNIE ELS: You guys don't like him, right?

Q. That's not just a one-way street.

ERNIE ELS: He's a friend of mine.

Q. I know.

ERNIE ELS: Listen, he's a hard worker. There's a couple of things that's happened this year, unfortunately, for you guys and for him. That's not very nice. As a player and as a good friend of mine, he's a good guy that works hard, and I think he's a little bit misunderstood sometimes. If he keeps doing what he's doing, he's going to be -- you've got to take him for what he's done on the golf course. What happened off the golf course happened off the golf course. There's nothing we can do about it. So it's our vote at the end of the day, and if he keeps doing what he's doing, the players will look at it.

GORDON SIMPSON: Okay, everyone. Thank you.

End of FastScripts.

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