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March 2, 2008

Ernie Els


DOUG MILNE: We'd like to welcome the 2008 Honda Classic Champion, Ernie Els, to the media center. Thanks for joining us, great rounds today, 3-under par 67 with the wind. You picked up 4500 FedExCup points and I know it's been a long time coming, four years, just a couple general opening comments on how you're feeling.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I know, thank you. It's still really settling in. I'm sure I'll really feel it tomorrow, you know, probably I'll be able to answer your questions better tomorrow.
But anyway, I really feel very grateful and happy. Obviously it's been quite a ride, you know, especially over here. I've won tournaments around the world, scarce tournaments around the world here and there, but obviously to win over here, it's been really my goal.
So, it's a great feeling. I was really trying not to mess up out there. You know, if my confidence was maybe a little high, maybe I could have really separated myself a little bit, because my game, I really felt good with my game from tee-to-green.
But I took a bit of pace off my putts on the back nine. I felt the wind was really drying up the greens. The greens were getting really quick. So I missed probably four very makeable putts. But you know, I don't want to look at the negative. You know, this has been a really wonderful week, never shooting over par on a very, very difficult golf course. So very pleased.

Q. You've taken some pretty good punches the last couple of tournaments, in light of that, does this make it more satisfying to win or how does it affect you?
ERNIE ELS: No, definitely. You're very right, in Dubai, you know, I needed to play a really solid back nine and made a couple of mistakes and went for the green on 18 and losing there.
You know, even before that, in South Africa, when I really had the tournament won, and I made an eight, you know, to lose by one, that was tough. And even other tournaments, if I have to look back in the last three, four years, really even majors where I felt I may be could have done better.
But to come back to your question, yeah, it has to feel even sweeter, you know, losing so many tournaments and now, you know, actually one going my way. I didn't want to watch on television, you know, what other guys were doing. The last time I saw it quite live was when Boo Weekley chipped in twice on 17 and 18 at Hilton Head last year to beat me. (Laughter) So I didn't want to watch this time.

Q. Along those same lines, how can a guy who has won as many tournaments as you have goosebumps after you've won?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you know, we play out here to win. You said it there. It's not like this is my first tournament ever. You know, I've won quite a few times around the world.
But, you know, I guess we get addicted to that feeling, you know, and when you don't get your rush, so to speak, you miss it. I definitely missed winning over here. The fans have been wonderful, really supportive wherever I've gone throughout the United States; and the e-mails I've received and the letters I've received from giving me golf tips to mental tips to diet tips to anything. You know, the fans have really been great, and this is really a win for them as much as it is for me.

Q. You came into the week saying that the confidence was a nine, got down to a seven, and you wanted to go to a nine again and you hoped to do it by the end of Florida; is it there now? Is one win enough to get you right in your own mind?
ERNIE ELS: I guess my Thursday, this tournament's forgotten. You know, we get to Tampa, it's a new event, new week, and a new battle begins.
So I'm committed to playing next week in Tampa, and let's talk -- I don't know if you're going up there next week, but I'll definitely tell you by Wednesday or Tuesday next week how I'm feeling. Right now, I'm just happy.

Q. How does the nature of these finishing holes, there's so much trouble, so much that can go wrong, how much more satisfying is it to hold on through that?
ERNIE ELS: Good question. I mean, I don't think -- hopefully we don't have a tougher finish line than this anywhere we play, because this is hopefully as tough as it gets. You know, the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 18th is such a wonderful par 5. So to play them pretty well -- the putt on 17, I hit it a bit too soft, but at least I committed on my shot out of the bunker and in the wind. I'm not too bad over bunkers, and that was my focus. I think I've kept my focus really well on this golf course, especially today. Yesterday I was a little all over the place, and on the first, I was really good. So if I can keep this up, I want to take this further and see where it ends up.

Q. You made the front nine appear to play a lot easier the last two days; is that a fact or is that just a coincidence?
ERNIE ELS: No, I think you've got more opportunities on the front nine. I think especially the way the wind has been blowing, you know, the first hole is definitely a birdieable hole and the third is a par 5, the fourth is almost drivable and 5 is downwind with a good pin placement today. I really took good advantage of that and I missed a little one, a 3-footer on 3 for birdie.
So I really was pleased with that obviously and it really got me in the tournament. If I had a bogey on the first four, I don't think I would be sitting here, because it's a really tough way to come back on the back nine. There's not too many birdie holes.
That was definitely on my mind to play a good front nine.

Q. You thanked Bob Rotella after your victory; is there something that he said to you maybe in the past few weeks that stuck with you in today's round?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, definitely. I've been working with Bob on and off a little bit the last two years, not really intensively. But I saw him the other day. I played an early practice round on Monday and I saw him Monday afternoon. I just said to him now, "You know, it's a good thing I saw you Monday." (Smiling).
He's just such a wonderful guy and he's gotten to know me a little bit better now and he basically just wants me to be Ernie Els again, to be kind of like the "Big Easy" again. I've been a little bit uptight and a little grumpy, and, you know, basically because I've been trying to get better and win those tournaments.
But I mean, you have either bad luck or bad play or, you know, whatever happened to you, you start getting a little uptight. So he's been trying to relax me a little bit more and be more myself, and that's when I play my best is when I just go out there and play the golf course.

Q. Could you talk about the wind, and did I hear you say something to the effect that you were glad it was blowing?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, chasing, you need tough conditions, because if the wind wasn't blowing like it was yesterday, the leader shoots 66, you've got no chance, which is very doable out here if the wind doesn't blow. So I was happy that the wind blew, and I knew that -- I'm not too bad of a wind player. I've played a lot of golf around the world, and obviously British Open, so I've had my fair share of playing in wind, so I felt quite comfortable with that.

Q. You didn't have to worry about Tiger because he wasn't in the field this week, and would you like to take that same approach and play Ernie Els golf and not worry so much about Tiger when he is in the tournament?
ERNIE ELS: I know it's tough to do but I've got experience of that now. I've seen Tiger for the last, what, 13 years, since he was an amateur. I should have done something to him back then. (Laughter).
But no, obviously, when he's in the tournament, there's bigger scope from you guys, from the media, and obviously from the fans. So there's a bit more hype, obviously, and you know, obviously if he was in the field, who knows. You know, he could have won this thing maybe by six or seven, or who knows, or maybe he wouldn't have had a good week; we will never know.
But when he's in a tournament, this is definitely the way I need to play. I still missed a lot of putts on the back nine. You know, I missed a good four putts from inside of eight feet or ten feet.
So I still need to improve prove on, you know, making those big putts, because I need to make those down the stretch, because there will be a tournament obviously when he's in contention and hopefully I've got a chance to try and beat him, and those are the things I have to improve on. So I know what I've got to work on still.

Q. You've had a lot of wins in your career obviously, but does this one rank pretty high considering what you've been through leading up to this in recent years?
ERNIE ELS: No, definitely. Winning the World Match Play last year at my home course was obviously very big, but you know to win a full stroke-play event on the U.S. Tour on a very difficult, demanding course, and really coming from behind, really it was nice, put it that way. I wish I could have made that putt on 17 to really make it almost a perfect round of golf, but you know, that's as good as I probably could have played in the final round. So, it was very satisfying.

Q. You spoke a year or two ago about your three-year plan, just big picture, where are you at right now, your philosophy?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I mean, I didn't realize that Tiger was going to win ten times since I said that, or more. (Laughter).
You know, I definitely said it because I really needed something, some kind of a goal for me. I am 38 right now, and I can quite easily, you know, go and enjoy my kids and go build golf courses and stuff. But I really still want to achieve a lot in the game, and I still want to win a lot. You know, I said that, and as you guys know me, I don't get too ahead of myself.
I just felt that's the kind of goal for me to really strive for and practice for. So I'm not sure where I am right now, but we'll see.

Q. What was it like today just to play 15 through 18 in the wind under pressure? What was it like?
ERNIE ELS: It was kind of scary, but you know, you have to commit to your shot and you have to execute what you see. If you're going to second-guess yourself, you're going to make a big number, like I did yesterday. Ever since I made that mistake yesterday, I said to my caddie, you know, we've got 21 holes, let's play them as hard as we can, and I'm glad I said that to him, because that was both of our goal to really play as hard as we can.
So that's the type of golf course it is. You know, it gives you a lot of opportunities for birdies, but the difficult holes here are right there, on a scale of ten, it's right up there.

Q. After some of the shots that you've taken running from the front, is there anything to be said about coming from behind today and doing it that way instead?
ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, you go out there, the first couple of rounds, you try to play as good as you can, and then, you know, try and when you do get a lead, you've got to just keep going. The one I lost in South Africa, obviously I was leading most of the way, and then I just dissolved on the final hole.
But you know, hitting shots under pressure is what it's all about and that's why we practice, and today it worked out for me. So I want to just take it from there.

Q. This will seem a little off-topic, but did Arnold have anything to do with you moving to the Orlando area?
ERNIE ELS: Actually David Leadbetter had more of a deal there. I started working with him in 1990 and he was at Lake Nona and I started practicing there, and not knowing much about America, I kind just stayed there and settled down there. So made a lot of friends there.

Q. Are you playing in the Pro-Am tomorrow?
ERNIE ELS: I am playing at Seminole, yeah. Hopefully my partner is good tomorrow.

Q. Who is your partner?
ERNIE ELS: Mr. Rupert. We actually won the net I think three years ago, so he's got his name on the board there, which he wanted to do.

Q. You've been candid and open in both success and failure; where does that come from, is that something that you consciously try to do or is that just who you are?
ERNIE ELS: No, I think that's just the way it is. I think I'm quite a shy guy, actually, but you know, I think I feel better when I just tell it the way it is. I think people doing business with me, I think it's the same way. Whether you like it or not, that's the way it is, basically.
DOUG MILNE: If you wouldn't mind, just run us through and give us some clubs.
ERNIE ELS: No. 1, I had a wedge to just about three feet for birdie.
On 3, I actually missed a short birdie putt there from about four feet, but I made par there.
4, I drove it in the green-side bunker and hit a really good shot out there to about three feet.
5, I hit a 6-iron to about ten feet, made it for birdie.
7 was a 5-iron on a par 3 to about 15 feet.
I made a good save on 9. I drove it in the right stuff, hacked it out and chipped it up to about a couple of feet.
Then, you know, 10, drove it way right. Hit a great shot, probably the shot of my tournament out of the high rough to only about ten feet, and, you know, then I missed that putt.
The rest, then my bogey on 17, I hit a 4-iron in the left bunker and hit a bit of a clumsy bunker shot and missed the putt from about eight feet for par.

Q. What was your club on 10, the good shot?
ERNIE ELS: 10 was an 8-iron. It was really lying thick.
DOUG MILNE: Ernie Els, congratulations.

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