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July 17, 2007

Ernie Els


BRIAN CREIGHTON: Ernie, welcome to The Open. You had a wonderful final round in Loch Lomond last week, and you also moved up a position in the World Rankings. You must be feeling pretty good coming into this.
ERNIE ELS: Yes, thank you. I had a nice week last week. Obviously a very different golf course we're playing this week. I had quite a few chances on Sunday. Actually enjoyed the round, especially when you're making birdies and stuff. Still a couple of mistakes in that round, the 16th probably cost me the tournament, bogeying that hole. But it was a nice finish and I'll use that new driver last week and that felt good and I'll be going out there this afternoon and seeing what it's like this week. I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Your Open Championship record compares favorably with most, one win, a playoff and a couple of near misses. You must think your game is suited to links golf and Open Championships?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. For some reason ever since I came over here as an amateur, way back in '87, I've played the Links Trophy at St. Andrews and some amateur events, I just found a liking to links golf courses. I played the great one, Woodhall Spa, and as I said, St. Andrews, Lytham, I played a lot of great courses back then. I always enjoyed it, even watching The Open Championship on television. I always enjoyed the way you had to play these golf courses. I think it suits a strong hitter of the ball, especially when the wind starts blowing. You've got to make good contact with the golf ball, and I think good ball strikers have a good time around these courses.

Q. Can you talk about the imagination that you have when you play links golf? Is it something that you had before you started playing it? What's the best links-type shot you've ever hit?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think you're either going to like it or not. Luckily for me I found a natural way to play links courses from a very early age. Now, whether that was watching it on television, I just found the natural way of hitting bump and runs, and hitting the ball low in the wind and taking more club and just kind of carving shots through some of these flat positions. But you play different shots. You play hooks and draws and fades more so than on parkland golf courses, where there's not much wind most of the time. And if there is, the courses are quite soft and you fly the ball in the air. It's a totally different type of golf, as you guys know. And if you don't have it naturally you've got to really learn how to play some of these shots. And I think some of the guys have probably had some problems trying to change their games, so to speak.
I also think playing around the world on different types of courses, different types of grass also helped me cope with links courses maybe better than some other players.
My best links shot? That's a tough one. I'd like to go back to Muirfield. It's not quite a links shot, it was a bunker shot, I think it was on 13. I pulled it left and almost holed it. I don't know how I got it out of the bunker. It was a good shot.

Q. Given everything you've just said about liking the links golf, is there a little part that feels you might have won more than one?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. But that's taking you back into the negatives again. But, yeah, absolutely. I had quite a few chances to win other ones. Most recently, obviously, the playoff against Todd Hamilton. I felt I really played that well that week at Troon and didn't get the most out of it. But that's as close as you can come to winning The Open. So that makes it even more disappointing. I had chances at Lytham, about ten years ago, with Tom Lehman. So, yeah, the chances came, but luckily I've won it before, so it's nice.

Q. I know how close that you were -- have been to Seve. I know how delighted you were when he presented you with the World Match Play the last time you won it. Can you say a few words on the day after his announcement of his retirement about the man?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I actually read it in the papers this morning and I watched it on television last night that he made his announcement. There's not enough great things I can say about Seve. As a player he totally dominated this Tour, dominated World Golf for a while in the late '80s. He was really the guy that you wanted to watch to play. Nowadays you probably want to go watch Tiger or Phil Mickelson play, because they play exciting golf. And I think Seve was the man of his era.
Although there was other great players like Nick Price and Bernhard Langer and Woozy and Faldo and Lyle and those type of players, Seve had a different game. And it was always something you feel that was going to happen when Seve was playing. He always drew the biggest crowds.

Q. Do you think he set the template for the rest of the World Golfers that they could go out and beat Americans?
ERNIE ELS: Looking from a European point of view, yes, absolutely. From my point of view Gary Player was always the guy, and Nick Price and those kind of guys. From a European point of view he opened the door and showed that people can win majors in America, being a non-American. He was just that type of player. He was a very aggressive golfer, and he went for his shots. I think he definitely did a lot for this Tour. And then also in the Ryder Cup matches he was really the leader of the team.

Q. Where does Carnoustie rate among the links courses you enjoy playing, both in terms of toughness and enjoyment?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's definitely the toughest of the whole lot. It's got length. It's got great bunkering. You've really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It's probably the best bunkered course that you'll ever find anywhere in the world. I think this one and Lytham are really well bunkered, but this golf course has the length, as I say. And it seems like the wind always blows here.
I'm staying at St. Andrews this week, I was at St. Andrews this morning, and the flags were -- there was no wind. You come out here and it's blowing. So it seems like this course, with the weather conditions and the way that the layout is, it's a very demanding layout. You've got to play every shot in the bag. Every links shot you can think of you get tested here. It's got everything.

Q. The enjoyment?
ERNIE ELS: Enjoyment in a Major? You enjoy a Major afterwards (laughter). From Thursday to Sunday it's hard work. And it's going to be the same here this week. It's going to be very tough, very difficult. It's going to be a very tough test. So whether you enjoy that or not depends on where you finish, to answer that question.

Q. What kind of clubs are you using into the wind and downwind on the par-3?
ERNIE ELS: If the wind is left or right into me, I might take it on the left side. If the breeze from the right, I won't go down the left side. If there's something that's going to push my ball right, I might take on the out-of-bounds and try to carve it in there. But, again, it depends on the weather condition. If it's downwind you can almost fly it straight over those bunkers in the middle. Into the wind obviously you have to take your option either left or right or short of the bunkers. The rough is not as bad as in '99, up where the layup area is. So you could almost hit two layup shots and go in with a long third shot. It's a great par-5. It's unbelievable.
16, downwind it can be a 6-iron. Anything into the wind obviously a driver. Probably the best par-3 you'll ever find, even downwind it's a very difficult hole to make par on. If you just miss it the green kind of slopes away on both sides. So if you miss the green it's a tough up-and-down. As I say, you've got to really play well to do well here.

Q. Do you think it's an advantage that now with the Dunhill changing, the format you're playing here every year. You've seen it in a lot of conditions, as opposed to people that don't come over and play the Dunhill?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, absolutely. The more you play the course the better you know it. You know the lines you need to take in different weather conditions. Yeah, I really enjoyed the Dunhill. We played three great golf courses, and obviously Carnoustie is the toughest one when we play. We don't play off the back tees, though, in the Dunhill. But, yeah, it definitely helps you.
Like any links you still learn things. I've played St. Andrews for 20 years and I still learn things at St. Andrews. The more you play a certain golf course the more you know the lines. So, yeah, it helps me.

Q. Many years ago they used to have a professional tournament at Turnberry where the players were only allowed to use 7 clubs and they nominated their clubs every day, depending on the condition. One, what clubs do you think you would nominate to use let's say in conditions like this? And two, do you think you'd enjoy such an event and would it separate players even more?
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. Well, you always need your driver at links courses. You definitely need a putter. So I'd choose those two clubs. And then I can do a lot with a 5-iron, so I'll choose a 5-iron. I'll probably need one sand iron, so I'll use a 54-degree sand iron, so that's four clubs. That's almost all you need (laughter). Maybe a 3-iron and a 7-iron, something like that. But that's about it.

Q. You think you'd enjoy that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think it will be nice to see what the guys do and how you react to using those clubs. I remember at the Dunhill one year one group had a little get together of some players and we played with hickory-shafted clubs. I remember my first tee shot I hit it out-of-bounds at St. Andrews on the first, I hit it right. But after getting a better feel with the clubs they actually were great. The ball definitely flies a lot lower with those clubs. You've got to really wait for the club, because it's so heavy and the shaft is so soft. That was also a lot of fun. It will be nice to have a nine-hole tournament and see what the guys do.

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