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October 13, 2004

Ernie Els


SCOTT CROCKETT: Many thanks for coming in as always. We sat here 12 months ago when you equaled Gary and Seve's record of five wins and now you're going for the sixth. Reflect on that to start the week.

ERNIE ELS: You know, I'm here, I'm happy to be in the field. It's a good field. They have got different criterias of getting in here, so everybody player that's here has qualified. I think it's a good system. I think any match that I have this week is going to be a tough match.

I'm playing Scott Drummond tomorrow. Last time he was here he won, he shot 64 to win. So I've got to think about tomorrow's match. I can't think about trying to win it six times, not tomorrow. I will try to play as good as I can each and every match and you know hopefully it goes my way.

SCOTT CROCKETT: Do you know Scott at all? Have you had much to do with him since May?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we've spoken. We've played some practice rounds together here and there. I've seen his game. He's such a good young man, you know, he was a fine champion the way he played at the PGA, obviously shooting 64, and so now he feels like he's got a lot of pressure I'm sure. He's a fine player and I've got my work cut out tomorrow.

Q. How would you assess your year?

ERNIE ELS: I've had a good year, I've had a really good year. I've won four times and I was close at the majors. I've had a really good year. I'm 1 on the Money List in Europe,2 or 3 in America,2 in the world, so I think my performances have spoke for itself. You know, so yeah, I've had a good year.

Q. Contrast your year with Retief?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know to win a major makes it a great year, an excellent year. He won a U.S. Open and I was fortunate enough to be playing with him that final round and saw it all happen. So, I mean, he did very well. He's definitely gone up a step after that win in his career, I would say. So he's really one of the best players in the world now.

He won another tournament. He won the Irish Open, I think. He's had an excellent year. And my year, I said what I said. It's been a very good year. So it's hard for me to compare my year with Retief. You can do it when you write your story. I think we both have had good years and I felt that I've been very consistent this year. I've maybe fell out of the bus maybe once or twice where I didn't feel or I didn't finish well in tournaments. But I've finished Top-10 a lot of times and I've had an excellent year.

Q. Can you compare your injuries?

ERNIE ELS: I do think that Retief was really in a lot of good form when his accident happened, so he missed out on the PGA. It took him a while to get over his injury I think and now he's really back to his best. He played really well in Ireland, and he seems like he's really striking the ball well again.

So, you know, as golfers, you can't do too much off the course. It seems like if you just get the slightest of injury, it really compounds when you go swing a golf club. Your whole body has got to really feel good. My wrist injury, there's a lot of things that can happen to the body.

I'm sure it's taken a little bit of wind out of his sails, but he's playing good again.

Q. So you shouldn�t do anything apart from play golf then?

ERNIE ELS: It's hard not to. We've still got lives and we've still got to enjoy ourselves. Some of the guys like to go skiing down mountains. I like to do myself and sometimes you get unlucky and get injured but I think you still need a life outside of golf.

Q. Does it rankle you that you didn�t win a Major this year?

ERNIE ELS: Not at all. I did feel a bit disappointed after the August one, and at the PGA I felt very disappointed. Obviously, you haven't been around the last month because these guys have been asking me that question every time I walk in here so that's why I've been smiling.

I'll go through the whole process with you again. Yes, I did feel disappointed after the last one and it took me a while, but after those couple of weeks I had off after Switzerland I really tried to re-evaluate my year and see where I've got to go and I decided then and that whatever happened in the past is past. I've got to look to the future and the only way I can do that is I've got to be positive. So there you go.

So I really don't even think about it anymore. I've got to obviously talk about it because you keep asking me about it, but that's the only time when I think about it is when you guys ask me. So it's history, I'm moving forward. I have moved forward.

Q. If you win a million pounds, what would you do with it?

ERNIE ELS: What would I do with it? I'd bank it.

Q. Would you use it for long-term projects that you're doing?

ERNIE ELS: Thank God I've won some other tournaments in my life before so I've got a bit of money in the bank. (Laughter.) For the things that I have to do, you know, I've kind of already covered. So any money I make now I put away for a rainy day.

Q. Do you bank with HSBC?

A. No I don�t.

Q. What do you choose to do to relax?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I've got a couple of other stuff to be busy with. We've got a nice -- we're going to open our wine cellar in December and that's going to become quite a bit of a hobby, an expensive hobby. That's where the money goes. (Laughing).

We have a nice label going at the moment, it's a blend and we've got some other labels also out of this vineyard. I've got a good partner down there in Stellenbosch, so we do that. I'll get quite busy with golf course design right now. And whenever I'm home, I don't tend to do too much. It depends on where I am. If I'm in London, I don't do too much. But in South Africa, we do a lot of outdoor activity. We go hiking with the kids. We do all kind of other stuff, outdoors. We'll go camping believe it or not. We do that in South Africa.

In America, basically we just kind of relax around the house, also.

Q. Do you look at other sporting calendars to see if you can see other sports?

ERNIE ELS: It's working out nicely. At the end of the year, South Africans are touring around Europe in November, so I'll be around here for those games. I'll go to the Dublin game and I'll go to the Buckingham (ph) game. We keep in contact with the rugby players. We've got quite a nice relationship going there and even the cricketers. At least we watch a lot of sport.

Q. Darren Clarke was a good standard rugby player, were you?

ERNIE ELS: No, I stopped playing rugby when I was 16. So I don't think I was on that level. I was playing okay. I was playing for good teams but not -- I wasn't going to take it too far. It was getting too tough.

Q. Played any other tennis?

ERNIE ELS: I think the tennis is a little better still.

Q. How important was the win in Mount Juliet?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that was very important. It was kind of a fresh start at the end of my year. I was really -- I was really committed to play well that week so that was a good sign. I wanted to play well, and to be honest with you, I didn't hit the ball all that great, but I really scored well.

I said earlier in the week that I needed a fresh start; I needed to play well. So I think it was good. It was a very good, big win. Especially with that field and that caliber of players playing. So, yeah, it was a good time to win a big tournament for me, yeah.

Q. Do you think the seeding is fair this year more than other years?

ERNIE ELS: Hey, they have all been fair, come on. It's just I think HSBC putting so much money down, I guess they want us to really work for our money this week.

I think it's good. Obviously, being seeded, you know I play the lowest seed, which as I said before, it doesn't mean much because you've still got to go out there and play your best to go through.

So, yeah, I mean it's going to be a change for me definitely. I haven't done this. They have been kind to me all of these years; I've been seeded. But your first match, it's a match and you've got to get through it to get through the second and that's all I've got to think about. I can't think about if it's fair or not. I think getting 16 players together into a field, you know, why not play the whole field? I think it's good for spectators. I think it's good for television, get more matches through, get more golf played. And for that prize money, I think it's fine.

Q. Along with that big prize money, you have some big names that didn't accept the invitation, why do you think that is?

ERNIE ELS: I'm not sure which players they are.

Q. Tiger, Davis Love --

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, this tournament, you've got to qualify through the majors.

Q. They were qualified.

ERNIE ELS: They were qualified? Okay. Well, Tiger, he's still on a honeymoon probably.

You know, I'm not sure why they don't come. I mean, we sit here, we talk about it almost every year, don't we? A lot of the players don't arrive, they don't come, it's the biggest prize in golf.

Q. Is money irrelevant?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I guess it is now. But the history of this championship, the winners they have had here, it's not that long a flight, either.

But they have got their reasons, again, on their behalf. But they should really support world golf and especially when it's called the World Match-Play and it's been around for 40 years -- or how many years, 41? I'm close. It's got some history here. It's got some great champions. You know, I'm not sure what their reasons are.

Q. When you look back at the five finals you have contested,, which one do you think of first?

ERNIE ELS: I always think of '94, the way I came through, the two Spaniards I played. I played Ollie I think in the quarterfinals and I think I played Seve in the semifinals. The semifinal against Seve I will always remember. I remember I made seven 2s out of eight par 3s and only won a couple of holes on those par 3 holes. That was really, really -- what a match it was. And to play Seve, he was still playing really well in those days. I remember he beat me in a playoff for the German Masters a couple of weeks before, that so he was really on his game. He was really passionate still. With the people here, they adopted him in those days. I remember that he really had a great following here. We had a huge crowd and I remember that match very clearly. That's still my favorite win.

Against Monty, I shot that low round, I mean, I was given a couple of putts, but that was also quite stunning. He shot 65 and I shot close to 60. That was also a good year.

Q. What does it mean to you to win the European Order of Merit again?

ERNIE ELS: Well, just means that you had a good year again. The Order of Merit, all of that stuff that goes with it, World Ranking, all of that stuff, you have to know you've had a good year. So it means that I've had a good year. I've played well in the big events, played well at the majors. Obviously that win a couple of weeks ago really helped a lot, it was a big money event.

I'm not sure if the whole prize money counts. I think they have some kind of a system here this week where not quite the whole prize money, if you win, will count for the Order of Merit.

It's become quite something. You know, if I can win it another time, I've done it twice now, so it will be nice. But to be honest with you, at the start of the year, that's not always my -- that's not my goal, no.

Q. Are you as happy now as you have ever been?

ERNIE ELS: I would say, yeah. I mean, anything -- I guess when you start out when you're in your 20s, you want to get comfortable as quickly as you want to be. And you move on, I've got all the stuff I need, to be honest with you.

But more importantly I've got a great family right now and I've got a great wife. And it makes me happy when they are happy. So yes, I've got a lot of stuff that I've got to be thankful for through my career now, especially the last ten years. But you want to set yourself up as quickly as possible and you want to get there, you run around a little bit. I am still running around a little bit, but it feels more controlled. I'm more my own person than I've ever been at this stage. So yes, I am very happy.

With golf, I push myself so hard still that I still want to get better and I still want to achieve things. In golfing terms, I could see myself achieving a little bit more. But away from the golf course, it's brilliant. It's really wonderful.

The whole mix? Yeah, exactly. It's getting everything -- kind of a blend, you've got to get the business side, the golf side, the family side. It's quite a setup you've got to manage and deal with. But it's good. It's all good.

Q. Can you expand on the fact you said that money was irrelevant?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I wouldn't say it's totally irrelevant but it's definitely not as important as it was ten years ago. Ten years ago, you just set yourself up. And I can see some of these young players going through the same stuff as we went through and it's kind of interesting to see how they cope with it, because you can't get ahead of yourself too far. I've got to keep things in perspective.

You know, I'm lucky, I got involved with good people and they have set me up pretty well. Right now, I'm trying to win tournaments. I'm trying to move myself into a different league kind of so to speak. So that's my next goal.

Q. Are you more comfortable here than in South Africa now?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think obviously when I go to South Africa, we have a great time there and I think the people really enjoy it when I play there. Away from South Africa I would say this is closest to home for me definitely. I've got a lot of friends over here and I truly feel a sense of support from the people in the crowd when I play here. You know, I think it also helps when you have a home in England. They kind of can relate to that and I can relate to them.

So, yeah, it's become very comfortable playing in the British Isles. In Scotland, Ireland, I feel the people, there's a support for me more so than anywhere in the world except for South Africa.

Q. What was your first event?

ERNIE ELS: My first event? That was in Braamfontein in the free state right in the middle of South Africa. It was called the Spoornet Classic. It's a railway, it's a train company. It's like -- (laughing) I was really nervous. I was making the cut easily and I bogeyed 17 and then the par 5, I needed to par it and I remember my birdied it and I had a score of 147 which was 3-over par. And then I finished, I think I finished 32 or something. I don't remember the prize money, 3,000 Rand or something like that?

Q. What is the status of your situation with the TOUR, getting a release to play outside of the U.S. Tour? Have you spoken to Tim Finchem?

ERNIE ELS: Well, they wrote me a letter and I'm busy responding to it. You know, it's not done yet, but I'm sure when I get back to the states I'll get back there, playing Tampa, I'm sure I'll sit down and talk to him. But I think they need to understand that I think the golfing world has changed through the years. There's a world outside of America, and I'm part of it.

So we'll get to the bottom of it. But I don't think it will be a big issue. I'm sure it won't be because a play a full schedule in America. They can't restrict me from playing where I want to play.

Q. Who did you hear from initially?

ERNIE ELS: From the board or some person that runs the releases or whatever.

Q. When it got to the stage that money wasn�t the main motivation, did the pressure ease?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, probably going to contradict myself from what I said earlier. You know, they run hand-in-hand, the winning and the money. I think obviously in your 20s, I still want to -- I've always wanted to win tournaments, that was my first and final goal is to win tournaments. Obviously you win tournaments, there's money involved. I would say now more than of the tournament means more to me than the money, but they run hand-in-hand. So it's hard to explain to you. It was definitely more important earlier on than now. But winning is still the goal, ultimate goal.

Q. How long do you think Vijay can maintain the pace he is on?

ERNIE ELS: Vijay has had an unbelievable season. He's won a major and seven other events. If we would have said after Tiger's season in 2000, 2001 that somebody would play like that, and dominate like that, like he did, again, so he's definitely dominated the U.S. Tour, and I would say almost world golf this year.

You know, who knows how long he can go on for. He's really working hard off the golf course, keeping himself in good shape and he's still working on his game. So, who knows. You know, all I can do as a player is try and get better myself. I'm also in the process of trying to do that.

But he's had a great year. Eight wins with a major is exceptional.

Q. Would you like to play him in the final?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, I think that will be great. 1 and 2 in the world, World Match-Play, 36-hole final, I think it will be great. I would love to see that happen. But, I would like to see him taken out before the final. (Laughter.) As I said, we are all competitors, aren't we?

Q. In an ideal world, what's your perfect schedule and how close can you get?

ERNIE ELS: I think the way I've got it now, I've got it quite nice at the moment. I think this year I'll have 17 in the U.S., it would have been 15 over here. That's pretty nice. I can maybe -- if you want to really get nitty, I can go 18 events over there and 13 over here. But I really thought my schedule this year was really nice.

Q. Is that enough for the PGA TOUR?

ERNIE ELS: No, they want over 20 and nothing abroad.

Q. Why?

ERNIE ELS: Because, I don't know, that's -- because I've got a TOUR card over there and it means that in a way they want to have a hold on and say, listen, if you want to go play in Dubai, I've got to ask them for a release to go play in Dubai. And for that release, I need to give them one extra tournament.

Q. What if they said no?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I don't want to go that far.

Q. How much of a distraction is it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's been on my mind all year. Yeah, it does, definitely, after a while. But we'll talk to them when we get there. As I say I'm preparing a letter to send back to them, and after this letter we'll sit down and talk because they sent quite a strong letter to me.

Well, I come from South Africa, although I live in England now, South Africa is my home tour. So that's quite strange, isn't it? I mean, Retief Goosen lives here, same status as me, and his home tour is regarded as the European Tour. Mine is the South African Tour, so it's quite strange.

Q. Can you comment on Vijay winning with the short putter?

ERNIE ELS: I think he's obviously proved that I'm right because he's gone back to the short putter and he's won a major. So I guess he felt that the best way for him to putt is the conventional way. You know, that's fine. I mean, even when he was using the long putter he was practicing with a short putter. So I guess he always had it in his mind to go back to it.

I think he's had a great year. Whichever way he's going to putt is the way he wants to putt. Putting, we've got cross-handed putters, we've got conventional, we've got the long putter, we've got the belly putter. It's a style of getting the ball in the hole.

We just felt, myself and some other players, we just felt that lodging it against your body, you get the perfect stroke every time should that happen. But that law is probably not going to change. My stance on it will also not change. For him to go to the belly putter and the conventional style of putting and winning four or five events since changing shows you the talent of the guy. He can probably putt standing on his head and make some putts. I think he proved himself right and I'm still where I am.

Q. Do you think there is a compromise (with the PGA Tour) or will you just point out what you think they should do in your favor?

ERNIE ELS: Naturally we've got to sit down and talk. At the moment it is kind of letters flying around. But first I'd like to sit down and talk about it and find a way, because I am definitely not hurting their tour at all with my schedule. I'm not hurting any other players on their tour, because none of them will do what I'm doing. So I'm not hurting anybody. I'm just helping, you know, the European Tour, I'm helping their tour. I'm playing all over the world.

Q. Would you change?

ERNIE ELS: No, why should I? I've been doing this all my life. You can't start telling me, hey, come over here and leave the rest of the world. It's not going to happen that way. So I don't think it will go that far, hopefully. As I said before, I'm not hurting their tour at all. There's no other player on their tour that does what I do.

Q. Would you consider not playing in the US at all?

ERNIE ELS: No, no. Listen, I want to play in the U.S. as far as I'm concerned, I play enough tournaments in the U.S. for anybody to start asking me questions to play more golf tournaments in the U.S. I think I play enough over there. I feel if you play 15 -- I play more than 15 over there. I live in the U.K. my children go -- Samantha goes to school here. Sounds like I'm living over there. Don't start putting a padlock around me because that's not going to work. I think before we get to there we will get some with Tim Finchem and his board and his people and we'll find a way, because they will either have to -- even if they dropped their rule, I mean, they are not going to -- Retief has only played 14 over there up to now and he's played a lot over here. Adam Scott has only played 15 over there and he's played over here. Why make an exception for me? I mean, because what, you know.

Q. What about Tiger?

ERNIE ELS: He only plays, what, three outside of the U.S. He plays Dubai and I think -- well, that's the only one this year. U.S. he's playing -- he's playing 18 or something.

Q. But not many more than you're playing.

ERNIE ELS: No, he's not playing anything outside of the U.S., so it doesn't make any difference.

Q. Why do you think they focus on you?

ERNIE ELS: Because I'm playing too much outside of the U.S.

Q. Why is it just you?

ERNIE ELS: I think I played one less this year than I played maybe the last two years, so there's a big issue.

Q. How many does Vijay play in the U.S.?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's -- he's played 26 or 27 in the U.S. (Laughter.) But he's not playing worldwide anymore.

End of FastScripts.

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