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February 27, 2008

Ernie Els


DOUG MILNE: We welcome Ernie Els to the media center here at the 2008 Honda Classic. Thanks for joining us for a few minutes making your stroke-play debut this week. Is '99 the last year you played here?
ERNIE ELS: I think so, yeah.
DOUG MILNE: Just a couple comments on the off-season and kind of assess the state of your game.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's nice to be back. I haven't played the Honda Classic for a while. I think the last time I played it was when we played Heron Bay, so it's nice to be back here, South Florida, nice weather. I played the course yesterday morning. I think it's a very fine golf course.
Yeah, the off-season, obviously I had a nice, long off-season this year, last year. I went back to South Africa and played a couple of events actually down there. Then I had a lot of time off, spending it mostly at our house in South Africa and on the beach. My first tournament was back in the Middle East, and I played in India the week after for the first time in that part of the world.
I played last week, 13 holes. (Laughter) Nothing you can do with that tournament. Spent the rest of the weekend until Saturday in Tucson. We actually stayed at Sun Mountain Golf Course, great practice facilities. So I spent three days on the practice range and trying to get my swing in order and then everything else, and came out here on Saturday. So looking forward to it.

Q. Were you working with David at all today?
ERNIE ELS: I spoke to David on the weekend when I was practicing in Tucson and I played yesterday morning, you know, Tuesdays are quite a busy day, so I think I'm going to stay off-campus today. I'll go to the Bear's Club and play golf there this afternoon and then I'll see him tomorrow. I'm playing the Pro-Am tomorrow.
I kind of know what I need to do, so he can just double-check, so to speak.

Q. They have reworked the Florida Swing last year and this year. The courses seemingly are much harder, probably a better caliber than your guys' mind. The winning score was 5-under and Tampa the next week was 10-under. Does playing like that prepare you a little bit better for Augusta than just going out and shooting 22-, 23-, 24-under without really thinking much?
ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, that's a good question. I think definitely, yeah, we always get the Florida breezes, which makes it more difficult. I didn't play last year but I heard from the guys that they really had the rough up last year. I played it yesterday morning and they turned the 10th hole into a par 4 which is over 500 yards.
I'm not sure when other hole they are turning into a four, but you know, this golf course gives you a lot of variety. They have got great short holes, probably the strongest short holes I've seen on any golf course. Some nice fours.
Yeah, the rest of the Florida Swing, you know, Doral is probably the only one nowadays where depending on weather, go kind of low. But the rest, even Bay Hill, is a tough test depending on weather.
So the Florida Swing has really become very popular, I would say, with the players, because the weather is a lot better than it is on the West Coast at this time of year. It gets quite cold out there. That's really I didn't figured I really wanted to play the whole Florida Swing to play on good courses and tough conditions and get yourself ready for the Masters.

Q. How is your confidence?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I just spoke to Scott Hoch in the parking lot, had a good couple of events. He just said, "You're playing well, just got to finish it." Unfortunately in Dubai, I had a great opportunity to win and finish the tournament and came up short and obviously last week wasn't great. I'm not really too much into that one.
I'm really looking forward to playing a strong four weeks straight here in Florida and work on my game is and see where I can go.
To answer your question, I would say my confidence is probably around a seven at the moment. I'd like to get it up to a nine by the end of the Florida Swing.

Q. You spoke about the three-year plan. If you never got back to No. 1, would it matter in your career?
ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, I've done okay, but I definitely -- basically, I want to win those majors that I haven't won. That would give me a lot of pleasure. And getting to No. 1, it would be great, but you know, we're living in the Tiger era right now, and it seems like he's probably doing what he did in 2000 right now.
So I just want to do the best I can. Basically, get to those majors, and if things really start soaring, who knows, but I need to start looking at this event and take the next event and see where it goes from there.

Q. Will you ever look back and maybe second-guess yourself in all of the travel and wonder if you spread yourself too thin?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, that question will probably always be asked to me because of what I've done in my career. I think if I've looked back, I think I've done the right thing, and I've always been an international player. I come from South Africa. I probably could have, like 95 percent of foreigners coming here, base yourself in the U.S. and basically become a U.S. citizen.
You know, I love doing what I have been doing. This year, I'm playing a little bit more in the U.S. than I have. You know, that's just the way life took me. My road is what I've done, and I think that's fine with me. I don't think I'll look back and second guess what I've done. You know, I've done it quite successfully and not too many players have done what I've done.

Q. The accident when you hurt your knee, was it tubing or water skiing?
ERNIE ELS: What do you call it, there were like four of us sitting on the tube, I guess.

Q. Was it just a total freak thing or was there some danger involved when you were doing it?
ERNIE ELS: Might have been a little quicker than the normal person. (Laughter) I was the guy right at the back, and one of the biggest guys, heaviest guys, so to speak, and the whole thing flipped. I was kind of the last one in the water, and you know, my friend was in front. It was a freak, totally freak accident. When you're having fun, things can happen. It's like a guy going skiing, and you know, you make a mistake and the wheels come off, basically.

Q. What is it in your confidence, when you say you're at a seven, is it something in your game or something that could happen on the golf course, or if you just find something in your putting or swing that could make it soar, or is it just winning a tournament under a certain circumstance? What is it that would make you get to a ten?
ERNIE ELS: I think, you know, I've really been working on my technique. I feel more comfortable with it, so basically, finding a swing that can hold up under pressure. I think looking at my performances at the end of last year, started coming around.
To answer your question, I need a win. I need to at least have two or three events really up there, and really feeling the heat and knowing that you can pull off the shots under pressure. And I need a couple of wins like that, and I think, really believing that you can win. I haven't won too many tournaments the last couple years. It's basically like Scott said, I need to finish some tournaments at a more rapid rate.

Q. Gary Player is playing in his 51st Masters this year, which would break Arnold's record. How big of a figure is he in South Africa, and what are your first recollections about meeting him or whatever influence he may have had on you?
ERNIE ELS: If Gary wanted to run for president, he probably could have. Obviously through different generations, he performed and tried to play his sport when it was banned from international sport in apartheid regime, and really helped to bring the nation together. There are some tournaments in South Africa, you know, bringing all of the people together.
And obviously, you know, as a player, he's won the majors and all of that, so he's an icon in South Africa. You know, he does a lot for South Africans. Obviously, I think you look back at his career, he was the fitness freak, you know, of his generation. That's something that he plays 51 times at the Masters. It's nice to see that.

Q. Do you remember meeting him for the first time?
ERNIE ELS: No, I didn't meet Gary until I turned professional early on. I met him when I think I was, what, 21, 22. I played the British Open and played a practice round with him. Met him late, but we've really become really good friends, you know, through Presidents Cups and through his tournament in South Africa and so forth and really good friends. He's given me a lot of advice through the years, good guy.

Q. Do you remember that first meeting? Was that really special? You look back now and you know him so well, but for the very first time --
ERNIE ELS: '92, I think it was. I actually finished well there that year. But we played a practice round together, and it happened by fluke, because he was playing behind us. I was playing with a friend of mine, we were just a two-ball then. He was behind us and I said, you know, come play up. And basically, we met on the green on the third green and we started playing together.
You know, he won the British Open at Muirfield one of these four or five that he won, so he gave us a lot of advice going through the course. And then, you know, when he was still in all of the majors, we would play a practice round every year, every major, so a lot of advice coming my way.

Q. Do you think he gets short shrift at all? He's got the career Grand Slam and doesn't seem like he gets spoken of with the same reverence -- well maybe that's just here, because he's the first international guy to do it, and Arnold and Jack were Americans.
ERNIE ELS: Well, Lee Trevino, too. He didn't win the Grand Slam. But you know, sports lives are shortly remembered, so to speak. You get done, two, three years later, you know, next guy comes in. It's all about Tiger right now, and even guy the like Phil get totally overshadowed. Sammy Sosa hit all those home runs, and he's shifted to the back, so it's all current. I think it's because media, it's so current and so fast, life is a little different.
Yeah, I think he's one of five now who have won the Grand Slam, so that's quite something.

Q. This isn't a sport where you can play defense, obviously. It looks to us like Tiger seems to have separated himself again. What do you guys have to do that are chasing him to narrow it to get back up there again, other than just obviously winning tournaments?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you get your chances. He's winning and he is the greatest finish evident of all time probably, him and Jack Nicklaus, but you do get your chances. If you look at the Match Play, the guys had their chances. I had my chances beating him in Dubai. Basically when you're chances come, you have to grab it. And as I say, he's probably the best at doing that against or to you. We have to find way a to win. Phil beat him and took his chances, I think it was in Boston, it seems like a year ago. You do get your chances.
I remember when we were going head-to-head more often, maybe five, six years ago, that's one thing that stuck to me that I didn't quite take my chances when it came. There's not too many, but you do get your chance.

Q. A lot of people out there, casual and not so casual golf fans often use the term, Tiger is in other players heads. You often hear that. Is that just -- is there any truth to that, and if so, how does it manifest itself when you're out there and getting close to him?
ERNIE ELS: Well, his record speaks for itself. When he's out there, he's in contention. You know he's not getting away and you know he's not going to make too many mistakes. So it puts added pressure on yourself, and sometimes drives you into things that you don't normally do.
Like me in Dubai going for that green, I had a one in ten chance of hitting the perfect shot, and I was going for eagle. But if I think birdie, if I lay up, pitch it up there and try and make a putt to get into the playoff instead of trying to win it outright, I had probably a better chance of doing that.
So it forces you into some things that you might not normally do, and you've got to be quite strong not to fall into that trap, basically. So he's there all the time, and he's not making a lot of mistakes, so you know that, and it's tough to compete against that.

Q. Am I right in remembering that one Masters that you decided before the tournament started that you would not try to turn the corner too much on 13 and then you did and it was because he was there and you thought you had to do something special?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I was or three behind and kind of forced it a little bit and it wasn't a bad swing but I was trying to be aggressive and get it around the corner and set myself up for a three or four and made a bad swing, but yeah, that's one of the instances.

Q. You've spoken a couple of times about confidence. As accomplished as you are at this stage of your career, is it harder to get the confidence back -- is it easier to lose confidence than it is to get confidence back, I guess is what I'm asking.
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, the way we play now on the PGA TOUR, it's a little tougher now to win tournaments than it was maybe ten years ago. The level of play is much better. There's a bigger group of really good players, and if you haven't won, it's quite a challenge, I would say, to try and win a tournament again.
So that's kind of where I find myself right now. It's not like I'm playing terrible golf, but the results are not quite there. So it's hard to answer you. I mean, I don't want to say it's tougher to get your confidence back, but it's quite a journey. I'm enjoying the challenge at the moment. I'm enjoying practicing and really spending a lot of time on my swing and technical part of my game. I guess it's either way.
DOUG MILNE: Ernie, as always, we appreciate your time and best of luck this week.

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