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January 31, 2007

Ernie Els


RODDY WILLIAMS: Ernie, thanks very much for coming and joining us. You had a good finish last week, so no doubt feeling quite good about your game coming into this week where you'll be no doubt hoping to go one better.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I had a nice warm-up last week, and you know, that course there was in great shape. I had a good weekend. Finished 9-under on the weekend. Not quite good enough, but at least I've felt the juices flowing a little bit so to speak Sunday afternoon. Got quite close to the lead at one stage. Retief had a wonderful finish.
I'm looking forward to this week. I've been coming here for such a long time now, since '93 really. So this course hasn't really changed that much. They have changed a couple of tees around to make it a little bit longer. I hear 18 is moved back a little bit, so I don't think we'll be going in with 6-irons anymore. But we'll check it out today. From what I've seen, it looks like it's in brilliant condition. I've hit some putts on the putting green and I've seen now what the first hole looks like, so looking forward to it.
RODDY WILLIAMS: Looking to win a fourth title, you've won three times, what is it about this place that suits you so much.
ERNIE ELS: I just enjoy it. Some places, some golf courses, some golf courses just fits your eye. I've always felt comfortable around here. It's at a time in the season where I feel like I want to play, I'm fresh, and you know, you feel like you want to have a good start to the year. Maybe that's something to do with my performance this year.
But I think definitely the golf course, you know, I feel they really get it in good shape. I love putting on fast, firm greens and they normally get it like that here. You've got to play proper golf to shoot something in the 60s. So I enjoy that.

Q. You said you came here for the first time in '93, how much compared to back in '93, compared with this year, golf course design and that sort of stuff?
ERNIE ELS: It's been quite a big change back then. I didn't have to come and sit here and talk about my life. (Laughing) You guys didn't know who I was. Nobody else did for that matter.
In a way, very nice, you know, this place, you guys have been here since then, too. It was just a two-lane road from the airport to here. You got out here, you just played your golf and took a half an hour drive back to the hotel.
It's changed a little bit now. I'm 37 now, I'm not 23. You know, life's changed and I've got a family. Different business opportunities have come around my way, and so, yeah, a little different, but still you've got to get the little white ball in the hole. That hasn't changed. I'm trying to do that in less strokes than I've ever done. So a lot have changed but still nothing's changed, put it that way.
Off the course, totally different life. On the golf course, you know, you still want to try and make birdies.

Q. How many courses have you got on the go at the moment?
ERNIE ELS: In construction, under construction we've got six at the moment. We've got basically 16 signed up which we'll have to probably finish in the next three or four years. So a lot of work.

Q. In terms of change, Ernie, what sort of hotel did you stay in '93 compared to now?
ERNIE ELS: Well, back then I think there was a hotel down halfway down actually, the Metropolitan. I think it's still there. (Laughter) what are you laughing? It was perfect.

Q. Not anymore. Where are you staying at now?
ERNIE ELS: I'm staying at the Madinat now, got the family, nice little villa, very well looked after, believe me.

Q. So things have changed?
ERNIE ELS: They have changed. Off the course they have changed a lot, but hey, I've been out here 14 years, come on, give me a break.

Q. Does it make you feel comfortable seeing your wines around here and that sort of thing?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I actually had dinner at the meat company last night, a South African company. We had some of the wine. They have got the wine there now. So we've got to try and sell it, you know, so at least they are taking our wine.
It's good. There's a bit of a South African influence in the city now. I hear there's 40,000 South Africans here working and so forth. Yeah, it's a good flavour here.

Q. Can you talk a bit about the challenges that lie ahead of you with Tiger Woods and some of the others here?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, as I say, I enjoy the golf course, so I first and foremost want to enjoy myself and my game on the golf course. Hopefully my game is good enough where I can challenge guys like Tiger and the rest of the field by Sunday afternoon.
Obviously last year, I came very, very close in winning here. You know, going for the second shot on the playoff maybe wasn't the best decision, but you know, if it came off, it was another three feet, it would have been fine.
As it turned out, I lost the playoff. But you know, obviously Tiger is coming with a lot of form, and you know, the way he's playing now the last couple of years, every week he's the man to try and beat.
But saying that, you know, we've got the other players in the field. We've got a very strong field here. But it's going to take a pretty good score. You know, I think the weather is going to be good, and the golf course is in great shape, so I think you'll have to shoot good numbers here to try and win the golf tournament.

Q. Sticking on Tiger just one minute, you've beaten him in the past, because of his run, what does it take to beat Tiger coming down the stretch for somebody like you?
ERNIE ELS: When he's playing like the way he's playing now and winning tournaments in different styles -- I watched a little bit of Torrey Pines last week, and it seems like he was a little off ball-striking-wise, but then he found another way to win with his short game. I thought his short game was brilliant.
You know, he's in form. And he could be off, you know, in certain aspects of his game, but he's going to be really great in other aspects. So he's going to be a factor wherever he plays.

Q. But more for somebody like you, you've beaten him so --
ERNIE ELS: I'm getting there.

Q. I'm sorry. (Laughter)?
ERNIE ELS: As I said before, I think I've really got to think of numbers this week. I've got to think of getting a winning total in my head and really going for it. I think this year might be probably will be lower than previous years.
I've got to really play really to the best of my ability to try and beat him. And then hopefully he's not the guy to have to beat by Sunday. But he probably will be. So you've just got to, you know, get to, say, 22-under par and hopefully that's good enough.

Q. Has how you cope with the Tiger factor changed across the years? Initially it was a bit of a shock for everybody and then you all sort of handled it in different ways. I just wonder if you sort of had to change your outlook across the years.
ERNIE ELS: Yes, I think I have. You know, I think in the late 90s, I think I stood up pretty well. I did become No. 1 in the world when he was around in '98 and '97. I've won majors, not as many as him.
But you know, the last two years, or the last year and a half, I wasn't quite up to that standard. That's partly due to the injury and so on. But I feel like I've kind of energized myself again. I feel that I've got clear goals again and I really want to move forward to that. If I can move forward to my goals, I think I'll become a factor again, you know, in the Tiger world so to speak.
Hopefully this coming again of me will be more of a force than it's been in the past. I've seen him at his peak in 2000 and I've played with him so many times. I've finished second seven times that year I think to him. So I felt it, you know. I just feel that he's so far ahead of me right now, but I've got these goals and I really want to stay focused on my goals. If I can achieve those, I can be a factor again. And that's basically what you have to do. You can't try and go head-to-head against him. You've got to try and have your own little game plan and follow that.

Q. You and JP seemed to gel last week, can you talk about his first tournament alongside you?
ERNIE ELS: JP, he's a different character. I've known JP a very long time, like all of the other caddies out here. Late December I decided, myself and Ricci decided to take a break, and I gave him a call.
Yeah, I think we had a pretty good start last week. He's all ready, so to speak. Hopefully we'll have a good year.

Q. You said about the "coming again of me," hopefully being more of a force than in the past; can you just elaborate on that?
ERNIE ELS: I think hopefully this time around, I can actually win some tournaments and not finish second so many times. (Smiling).
Second is not too bad when you've got a guy like Tiger which is probably going to become the best ever. But you know, I'd like to win some more tournaments with him in the field than finishing second or finishing in the Top-10.
I know it will be one hell of an effort. You know, it's very difficult with the crowds and so forth. Especially in the U.S. But I feel I've got good support here, too, and I feel everybody's been ready for a good challenge again for some time now. So hopefully we can step up a little bit.

Q. You say you're sort of reenergized; what have you done differently to actually prepare yourself for the season?
ERNIE ELS: Nothing much. I just feel more relaxed, more ready mentally for the season. You know, you feel like climbing the hill again. I think last year in the back of my mind, I had a couple of things that I still had to sort out, you know, physically and so forth.
This year, I feel I'm overall those little things that bothered me physically and so forth. And I feel more free and happy and kind of ready to take on the hill, basically.

Q. How important was it to finish last year on a winning note then?
ERNIE ELS: I think that's partly to do with it. Came just before a nice holiday in South Africa. I basically went into a holiday with a nice frame of mind and we had a really good time. You know, I think it was very important. I'm South African and the South African Open is quite close to the heart and it's nice to win there on a nice golf course.
Yeah, it had a lot to do with it. I think, as I said, you know, from the Open Championship last year, I've started feeling a little bit more ready to play and to finally get a win was quite important.
RODDY WILLIAMS: Well, Ernie best of luck this week and thank you very much.

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