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April 6, 2004

Ernie Els


BILLY MORRIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to have Ernie Els with us this afternoon. Ernie has had a great start in 2004 defending his title at the Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA TOUR and the Heineken Classic on the European Tour. He has won the British Open as you know, two time U.S. Open champion. He owns 13 PGA TOUR titles and 35 international titles. He has played in ten Masters, and his best finish was second in the year 2000.

Ernie, we are delighted to have you with us. Why don't we open it up to questions. Would you like to make an opening statement?

ERNIE ELS: Not at all. I'm all ears.

Q. I just watched you on the range now, and it seemed like your A Game is on, so how do you feel about putting this week?

ERNIE ELS: I'm feeling okay. I actually didn't hit it too good this morning, the front nine, but I found something on the back nine. I hit some really good shots in my practice round on the back nine and I just wanted to fine tune it on the range. The greens are very, very fast. I'm sure everybody has said it here this morning, but they are perfect. They are in great condition. You hit a good shot, it's going to stop. If you're out of position, you're going to have a tough time, and I think that's the way they wanted it.

As a player, I'm hoping for a little bit of rain. (Laughter.) It will just give us a better chance. But at the moment, it's in beautiful shape, but it's tough. It's going to be a tough golf course if it plays like this. I'm looking forward to it, like every year.

Q. Does firm and fast favor any particular player other than the guy who is putting his brains out?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, you've got to putt well this week if you want to win.

You know, I'm not sure. I think still, you know, a guy that's played this golf course or this tournament at least four or five times will know exactly what the game plan is and what you have to do. So you've got to look at those kind of guys who have got experience around here. If it plays a little bit faster, obviously a lot more guys can get the ball out there. Maybe it opens it up to more players being able to have a chance. But it's tough to call. The field is such a quality field.

I think if you look at guys who played well at Jacksonville, because we got similar greens in Jacksonville, you had to be a bit more accurate maybe off the tees. But definitely, the greens are similar.

It's tough to call a guy that's going to be there.

Q. Why do you say there would be more players who have a chance maybe, because you don't have hit it out in the air so far because the fairways are dry?

ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think so. A lot of the guys, I mean, you want to hit it in a certain spot when it's really soft. Only a few guys can hit it in those spots. It's a little firmer. The longer hitters can hit 3 woods into the spots and the other guys can get there now. It kind of levels out the playing field a little bit in that respect.

I mean, if you take a hole like 5, last year we had to hit driver to get it up there. That was a 6 or 7 iron. This year, it's a 3 wood into the same area and hitting the same iron into the green. So a lot more guys can get to the spots where you need to be.

Q. Given your track record of two U.S. Opens and a British Open on a pretty tough links, I think you would like it the tougher the better this week.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think if you are on your game, yeah, definitely the tougher the conditions, the better.

I think guys like Scotty, I played with him this morning, he's still hitting it nicely. Guys who are really hitting it solid and have a lot of confidence, absolutely, I agree with you.

I think my game is getting there. I've been a little bit patchy the last couple of weeks, kind of a hit and miss here and there. I feel like I'm getting there.

I've won on tough golf courses before. Oakmont, I mean, that's ten years ago, but anyway, it's there. It played similar. And obviously, Muirfield and some other British Open courses where it's been really firm, as some people like it. But you've got to be on your game.

Q. You're saying your game is getting there. Are you talking about TPC or Tavistock Cup?

ERNIE ELS: Just for this one. (Laughter.) TPC I almost had it.

Q. When you say you're not exactly there, you said you found something on the backside today, but it seemed like during the year, you would be great off the tee, you would be fine getting to the greens, and then you would have a difficult time on the greens. Is that the same scenario we are looking at this week for you so far?

ERNIE ELS: No. Come on. (Laughs).

At TPC, I played pretty well the first two rounds, putted well. Then I kind of missed a couple and I was just awful on Sunday. I hit the ball pretty badly with my irons.

Yeah, I feel like I've been working hard on my putting. The good thing about this golf course to me, you know, I know the lines quite well. So it's not like I've got to read it again and again and again and I'm unsure about the lines. I'm pretty sure where to hit the putts, just to get the speed, you know. And the putter feels good this week.

So we'll see. I mean, you're right, a couple of times this year, I've hit it great and I've just missed everything, and that kind of creeps into the game at the end of the day.

I've been working on everything in my game, so, you know, I'm feeling good about my game this week.

Q. Just as a follow up, when you went into Oakmont and Congressional and also at Muirfield, what did you feel going into those weeks? Did you feel like you were on top of your game or you're in a similar situation you're into now?

ERNIE ELS: Well, two of them I was nowhere. I was maybe a little bit worse off than where I'm at now, especially going into Muirfield. I said to you guys where I was and you guys kind of blasted me a little bit, but that's how it was. I got it back, I got a swing thought and I went with that.

The same at Congressional. I missed the cut the week before and went in there and kind of it's kind of a wake up call. You've got to get your game in shape and you've only got a limited time, so I did that.

This week, this year, I've played reasonably well. I've had a couple of good wins. As I said, the last three weeks has not been up to my standard, but I've been working hard. You know, I feel okay.

Q. Is the golf course playing so tough that you find yourself playing more conservatively than you did, say, five or six years ago?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it all depends on what you do off the tee. If you get it in position off the tee, you can have some options. If you're going to miss it off the tee, you've only got one option. You try to get it to where you can make par or where you can only make one bogey with a single drop shot.

So it really depends on where you put it. It depends on where they put the flags. Some of the holes, if you have a bit of backstop, you can just shoot at it with anything.

But a hole like No. 3, if they put the flag left there, you can have a little sand wedge in and maybe play away from the flag.

So, you know, it's just all depends on the situation, where you are and where you've put yourself off the tee box. If guys are driving it well this week, you know, they're probably going to play well.

Q. How much do you thrive on the travel and playing all over the world, and how much is it a hindrance in terms of fatigue?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I've been doing it for a long time. Coming from South Africa, I've always traveled. I've kind of hinted that I want to play a lot more over here. I think the most I've ever played over here was maybe 19 or 20.

You know, who knows. Maybe I'll play a lot more here in the future, but we'll see. There's a lot of good stuff happening out there, you know. You can make some cash out there and help the game out a little bit around the world, you know what I mean.

There's not too many guys doing that, so I kind of take pride in playing around the world.

Q. Do you ever feel like you know this course, or do every time you go out, you learn something new?

ERNIE ELS: I think every time you go out there, you learn something, definitely. I think there's always one hole where you probably have never hit it before, you've got to create a new shot. There's maybe a new putt or a new chip shot, as I say. There's always something new around here. The subtle changes every year which changes things also, like 13 this year, they changed the green a little bit. It's always something that's a little different.

Q. Is this the year because of the rain the last two years, is this the year you finally get the full effect of the major changes?

ERNIE ELS: I would say so, yeah. I would really say so. I think holes like 5, where they have lengthened it with the bunkers on the left, that green is so firm already. I had a 3 wood and 7 iron this morning and I just stopped it short of that bunker at the back of the green and I pitched it just on top. So guys who are coming in with anything more than that, you're not going to stop it on top of that green.

14, same thing, coming in with a 7 iron today. Years ago, we were hitting wedges. Coming in with a 6 iron, you can't stop it.

Yeah, this year, we are going to feel it this year.

Q. This morning Vijay was talking about how relaxed he is on and off the course now, just in his life. Have you noticed anything different in him the last couple of years, being more comfortable with his game, everything like that?

ERNIE ELS: He's maybe more relaxed with you guys. (Laughter.)

I've been friends with Vijay since 1992, I think. To me, he has not changed at all. He's always been the same. He's very driven, like a lot of us out here. But definitely off the golf course, he's a very nice man. We've had our battles on the course and so forth, but, you know, he's a gentleman and he's a good friend. He's probably as relaxed as they get.

Q. Two or three years ago, it seemed one of the questions that was common for a lot of the big name players such as yourself was did you almost feel a little bit unfortunate to be born in this area with Tiger winning all of the majors. Has any of that reversed itself with Tiger playing not quite as well in the majors? Do you feel that maybe there's an open door right now that you really have to take advantage of?

ERNIE ELS: I've got to go back to his '99, 2001 seasons and probably 2002. I mean, that five year stretch, four year stretch, you could have brought anybody and I think it's well documented that I said quite a few good things about him.

That is just the way that he played. He played on such a level that I think Nicklaus would have had a very tough time handling him. He was probably the only guy that could have maybe played with Tiger in that stretch.

And yes, he's cooled down a little bit. But still, he's playing at a very high level, still not on the same level, but he's up there. Guys have become better players. I think guys have played better golf, I'm talking about Vijay and Davis and Mike Weir and Phil, myself, David Toms, Harrington, those type of players, they have definitely raised their games and become better players.

So, yeah, this week, anybody can win. Anybody, Top 20, Top 30, outside, anybody can win this week. It was proven last year with a first time major winner, so it's out there.

Who knows, if Tiger plays the same way he did in 2000, especially 2000, he'll be probably very tough to beat again.

Q. You said a couple of years ago that the fact that Tiger was in such dominant form, playing the final hole I think he had a problem at the 13th. Given a similar situation, would you be more inclined to play the last holes differently? Would you be more optimistic that he might come back to you? Is there a psychological difference?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think first of all, 13, where I made quite a number that Sunday, I think that hole was playing a lot different now. You can play it out to the right now.

I definitely don't want to think about Tiger Woods this week. I want to definitely just play my game, and even if it so happens that we have the same situation we had, what was it, two or three years ago, I learned a lot from that afternoon. It wasn't a pleasant couple of holes as you can imagine. So I learned from it and I had to learn from it.

Will it happen again? Hopefully not, but as I say, I've learned from it and I'll approach it differently, I know that.

From the first tee, I don't want to think about Tiger or Davis or Mark O'Meara or Robert Allenby for that matter. I want to play my game and forget about everybody else. You know, you've got to shoot your number.

Q. Was that the lesson you learned that day and how big of an influence was Tiger then?

ERNIE ELS: Where it started was the ninth hole. I had the most perfect eight holes you can ever imagine. I think I was 3 or 4 under and the foundation was laid for a nice next ten holes. Then I spun it off the front on 9 and made bogey.

It got me a little bit tight for some reason. I felt that I really didn't need that mistake going into the last nine. Then it just kind of went worse. I tried harder, tried shots that I shouldn't have tried and just threw it away.

Q. Do you think we'll see less fireworks down the stretch? Every year we come in here and they make the back nine harder, this year there's three dozen new trees on 11, and 18 is 60 yards longer than it was two years ago.

ERNIE ELS: Definitely. 11 is such a tough hole now. It's downwind today, we're hitting it down the left today, and the pin is right in front. I hit 9 iron in. If it blows like that downwind on the back nine, you can still have your fireworks. It was middle iron today to the middle of the green on 11. 13, I hit nice drive and 6 iron in there. Adam Scott hit it all the way around the corner. I think he only had 8 iron in. And then 15 was also downwind. It depends on the weather.

The longer hitters definitely can still get some fireworks going and maybe make some eagles. But if the wind changes, the way it's been blowing yesterday, you're going to see a lot of lay ups on both par 5s. You're going to see 11, everybody bailed out to the right because you're coming in with a 3 iron. It depends.

The way they have got the golf course now, it's a lot different from what it was five or six years ago. You're definitely not going to see as many birdies, that's for sure.

Q. This makes sense in my head, but it might not make sense when it comes out of my mouth.


Q. It seems like there used to be a divide between guys who had won a major and guys who hadn't won a major. Is there now a divide between those who have won multiple majors and those who have only won one major? How important is it for a guy like Mike Weir to win another major to prove it's not a fluke?

ERNIE ELS: Well, that's kind of the next step, isn't it? You win your first one, and then it's like, you ask yourself that question, too. I don't ask myself that question. I was 24 when I won my first one, so you want to say, okay, this is not a fluke, I am that good. So here we go, let me show you. Sometimes it takes you awhile. I think that's kind of the natural thing. You go from a good Tour player to a major champion, and then if you win another one, then you take another step, definitely.

There's quite a few people with one major. But definitely, the group becomes a lot smaller at two, smaller at three. So you kind of want to step up that ladder. But you've got to win your first one first. If you go down and you don't win another one, at least you've got one. But if you want to become better, obviously, that's a step up.

Q. What types of things do you want to accomplish during the next 10 or 12 years and how much do you think about that at this stage of your career?

ERNIE ELS: Well, in the next 10 years; I don't know about the next 12 years. (Laughs).

I'd like to win this one at least. I'd like to win the PGA at some time. That will be great. That will be fine with me, whatever happens.

That is what I'd like to do. That will be the perfect world for me. Also enjoy it and try and get better as a player.

Q. You've been in the thick of it Sunday afternoon on the back nine at all four majors. Is the pressure any different here than it is the other three?

ERNIE ELS: It's a good question. I want to say no because I know this place so well, I know the back nine so well and you know where to hit it and not to hit it.

But, you know, when you start thinking, I mean, that's the whole object here is not to start thinking about this green jacket, you know. (Laughter.)

You get really nervous, yeah. You do.

But then again, you know, you saw me at the British Open a couple of years ago. I was probably the most nervous I've ever been in my life. So I would say yes and no, if that answers your question. (Laughter.)

Q. Thanks, Ernie.

ERNIE ELS: I would say it's very similar pressure, but for me personally, I think this one, this is a big one for me.

Q. And secondly, I wonder if you could just talk about the fact we've had 14 guys win in 14 weeks on Tour this year. All of the top guys have won and have played well, but no one has played better than the other. Is this truly wide open? How do you see this week, given what's happened this year?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think you're right. I think the players like Vijay and Tiger and Davis, I mean, Phil, he's probably played the best out of the whole lot. He's had a lot of Top 10s this year, so he's playing consistently.

Vijay played great for that stretch for a five or six week stretch. And for the rest of us, you know, we were kind of in and out kind of a thing, either there or not.

And then some other players are also really playing well. I think you're right. As I said before, a guy that feels good about his game, you know, today, this week, he's got a good chance to win. It's pretty open.

Q. Tiger spoke earlier about people talking about his slump, quote unquote, and that he's judged by a different standard, that there's more hysteria if he has a bad round. Do you think that's true? Do you think players see it that way? Do you consider him differently than other golfers when he's out there?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely, there's a lot more media, and even the people out there, spectators, the fans, if they don't see Tiger in the top 5 making a charge on Sunday afternoon, there's something wrong with him. I definitely think he's definitely a lot different than the rest of us in that regard, absolutely.

But as a player, we don't particularly care much about that, you know what I mean? You guys care about it and the fans out there, we know how tough it is out there, to play at that level where he's at. You know what I mean?

When he's not quite on, we totally can understand it. So we don't really care in that regard, you know. It's so tough to play as good as Phil has played this year. Having Top 10s is pretty tough out here. To keep doing that year in and year out is quite tough. There's a lot of pressure out here.

Obviously he's at a different level than the rest of us are regarding you guys and the fans out there. You know, he's just showing that this game is the toughest game in the world to play. You're not going to totally master this game. As good as Tiger Woods is, he's never going to master this game. He's better than most of the guys out there, but at the end of the day, you know, golf is golf.

Q. What is your first memory of Arnold when you got here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I got here in 1994, so that says that.

Q. Did you ever play a practice round with him or anything like that?

ERNIE ELS: I've never played a practice round with Arnold, no. I've obviously spoken to him a lot here. Great champion that he is, he's kept coming back. You know, he's put a lot of majors and a lot of golf tournaments right on the map in world golf. He's been a great ambassador for the game.

Q. What's your history with swing coaches? When did you first start working with one? Do you bring one with you to majors like this one?

ERNIE ELS: I've been with Lead since 1990.

Q. Without ever switching?

ERNIE ELS: Robert Baker was working for Lead. He broke away from Lead, so I was with Bakes for nearly two years, but also was With lead at the same time. I haven't broken away.

My dad is my ultimate guru. He's very simple in his thoughts and he knows me better than anybody, obviously. So my dad and Lead.

Q. Will you get your dad out on the range with you this week?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, he's been out there, yeah.

Q. When you arrive on the grounds year after year, are there any specific sights or a specific hole as you start your practice round that really gets your adrenaline flowing and your blood pumping that you're back to play another Masters?

ERNIE ELS: First tee. First tee, every time, you feel you're at the Masters.

BILLY MORRIS: Ernie Els, thank you very much, and good luck to you this week.

End of FastScripts.

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