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June 3, 2004

Ernie Els


TODD BUDNICK: Thank you for joining us, Ernie, after your 4-under 68. You continue to play very well at this course. You've never missed the cut in your first ten years here and four Top 10s.

ERNIE ELS: Don't say that (laughter), but thanks. As a matter of fact, I had an interesting day. I had a very solid start to my round, making three birdies through the turn, and then I three-putted on 10 for a bogey, and from there it was kind of a roller coaster ride. I made a long putt for birdie on 11, the par 5.

Got it up-and-down out of the bunker on 12 for par.

I birdied 13 with an 8-iron to about eight feet.

Hit it perfect in the fairway on 14, but missed it on the wrong side, hit it right into the hazard with a wedge. Got it up-and-down for 5.

Then 15 has got to be the easiest hole on the course today, and I managed to make 6 there. I hit my drive a little bit right and then I was trying to get a 7-iron cutting out of the rough, came out straight left, on the left side of the green on 15 there, and I managed to make 6 there.

Then on 16, I hit a beautiful shot in there with a 5-iron and made a 12-footer downhill for birdie.

And then 17, I hit a perfect drive again. I had 190 to the flag, and didn't get the 5-iron and it went in the bunker, and I made it out of the bunker for birdie, so that was nice.

Then 18, I got it out of the bunker again for par.

It was quite a ride there at the end. I still feel I drove the ball really well today, and I can hit my iron shots better. Where they're tucking the flags, you can really look silly if you miss it. You've got to maybe play a little bit more safe at some holes, and I think I'll remember that for tomorrow's round. But I've got to be happy with that start.

Q. Discounting what Todd said earlier, you have been here ten years, and is it a place you think that you should have won at by now or you just should win sometime during your career?

ERNIE ELS: I've had a couple of good tournaments, but as I said out there, a couple of times when I did play well, Tiger is too good. I finished 2nd here three or four years ago, shot 65 in the final round and still lost by I think five shots (laughter).

Another time, I think I was in the last group, maybe a shot behind Tom Watson and I shot 75 in that final round, and Tom won that tournament.

And I've had some Top 10s, so I've played well here, but it's a course that I feel I can keep playing well. It really sets up to my game. I love the par 5s. I love the way they've set it up, so I've just got to keep grinding. I feel I can hopefully win here by the end of my career.

Q. Some of the guys coming in today have talked about maybe they should have thought twice about playing the ball up because of the way the fairways are. What's your opinion on that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I had a beauty on 18, right down the middle with a 2-iron. I think I had 175 to the hole, and I hit 6-iron and thought I struck it quite well and it went straight left. That was obviously a mud ball. I had a couple out there today. I find it quite interesting. Other golf courses we play that's like this, you only lift it. Today on 11, I hit a 3-wood and the ball actually just went boom, straight down in, a plugged lie, and then you drop it and it kind of plugs again (laughter). That's how soft some places are. I think you're going to get quite a few complaints. We don't like mud balls because you really get control taken right out of your head.

Q. How long was the bunker shot at 17?

ERNIE ELS: It was just short -- I think the flag was 12 yards over the edge. It was maybe ten yards. I had to get it up quickly and let the ball kind of drift to the hole.

Q. You said earlier a couple years you've played well here that Tiger was just too good. Now that you're playing well here this year, is he not that good anymore and maybe it's a little more even at a place like this?

ERNIE ELS: If he plays the way he did in 2000, he's just going to be really tough to beat. You've just got to take your chances. Today was quite a ride, but I've put a good score on the board. I've got three days left and I've just got to keep playing.

If Tiger gets his game back to what it was in 2000, it'll be tough, but it's not 2000, it's 2004 now, and I'm playing pretty good and other guys are playing well, and Tiger is playing well himself. Anybody who says he's not playing well, you know, he's not playing up to the standard of 2000, but he's not playing bad. He's one out of playoffs the first few events he's played at, so he's not far off.

I just want to take my chances when they come. I feel like I have a good chance this week.

Q. You looked a little stunned on 14 when it went in the creek. Were you surprised it went down there?

ERNIE ELS: The wind got me there. Ricky and I felt the wind was this way, and the water is on this side, and when I hit the shot, the ball just went straight right and then I saw the wind, and we obviously got the wind wrong today. It was difficult today with the wind.

Q. Ricky said the wind was also back on your tee shot on 15?

ERNIE ELS: 15, same thing. It was playing around a little bit with me. I don't know if other guys got confused, but I felt it quite difficult with that breeze moving around.

Q. You're in the middle of a pretty important three-event stretch for you, this one, the U.S. Open and Westchester, three events you play well. You said you drove the ball well today. What's the one element of your game you think you need to work on to do well in these fields?

ERNIE ELS: I think my iron play. Even last week in England, it was a lot firmer. I just felt I could hit my irons better, my middle irons. My short irons aren't too bad, but my middle irons, I've got to work on that a little bit. My short game is coming around nicely. I putted the ball well today, got the ball up-and-down a little bit, but I'm getting there. I'm close.

Q. You mentioned the wind on 14. Was all the trees that were taken out, did you notice wind today maybe being more of a factor?

ERNIE ELS: It hasn't been playing the way it's been playing in the practice rounds. There is an element where it makes you think, and yeah, I did maybe think with trees taken out, holes like 10 and 12, and 14 not so much, but definitely 16, there was definitely a bit more breeze coming through the greens, and it might make a difference.

I think it's a better look. It's a nice clean look and definitely better for the greens. They're getting more sunlight and more air. You know, there could be a bit more breeze around the greens.

Q. How do you conserve energy during this stretch and how does it all lead up to Shinnecock to the Open?

ERNIE ELS: It's kind of a funny stretch. Obviously I played the SAT Deutsche Bank. They're one of my main sponsors and I needed to play there. Ken Schofield asked me nicely to play the PGA at Wentworth because I won the Order of Merit last year and all that stuff, and I live there. I love coming here, and I love the Buick, as you know, and it's one of those things this year, I've got to bite the bullet and go for it. So far, so good. I've enjoyed it. I haven't taken it as seriously as maybe previous years. I've been a little bit more relaxed because I know I'm working on my game and trying to get ready, but in the same breath, you know, I've kind of kept myself as fresh as I can.

I took a couple days off before the Deutsche Bank. I was home in London, went there on a Tuesday afternoon. I had a day or so off in England before the Wentworth tournament, and then came over here Tuesday -- excuse me, Monday evening, and I guess when you do it as much as I do, the trans-Atlantic flight is not so bad. You get on the plane and sleep. I've got my trainer here this week from Orlando, so he's trying to brush me up a little bit.

Q. Do you ever fight jet lag or any of those issues?

ERNIE ELS: Going that way I really get it bad, but coming this way, I'm fine. You get to sleep early, you wake up early, it's not a problem. I've slept well this week. It helps when you fly private, too.

Q. Ernie, to follow that up, we used to think that you're peaking for the Open, but obviously you're trying to play this week and win, and I'm assuming the same for next week. How do you deal with that? I assume it would be somewhat of a delicate balance, that you don't want to do something that's going to prohibit you from playing well at the Open but still play well here?

ERNIE ELS: I really thought about it before I made that schedule, believe me. I think everybody thinks I'm a bit nuts to do it. Again, I've done it all my life, and I said to you yesterday, I have yet to play as well as I can here this week and take it for what it is, and next week exactly the same thing. I've just got to concentrate on what I'm doing. And as I said, I'm working on my iron play now, and this week my iron play will be sorted out, and who knows, by next week I can start peaking and maybe even this week. Great, if I do peak this week, and if I don't, then maybe next week, and I will be ready for the U.S. Open, come what may. When I get there I will have worked on my short game, my long game, everything, and I will have played different conditions. It's a lot of golf, but I still feel pretty fresh.

Q. With David today, what will you try to do?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think today, I've got to speak to Ricky, a lot of times we were in between clubs. And actually walking down 18, we kind of went through the round already. It was almost every hole, I kind of backed off and went to another club because the wind changes, and maybe tomorrow just go with a number and be a little bit more committed on the shots. I'm not completing my back swing on my iron shots, and I think it's because I'm a little bit in between shots.

Q. You said yesterday that you had heard that Jack wants the greens at 14. Where would you say they were today?

ERNIE ELS: Very close (laughter). It depends on the flag positions. They really got tricky. The greens are almost as quick as Augusta now and they've got some moisture in there. At the moment they're perfect, but I'm sure they're going to get quicker. That's the way Jack likes them.

TODD BUDNICK: Thank you, Ernie.

End of FastScripts.

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