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March 26, 2004

Ernie Els


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: ERNIE ELS, thanks for joining us, rounds of 68 and 69, puts you in good position going into the weekend. Maybe start with some opening comments about the day.

ERNIE ELS: It was a good day. Always in the morning you want to get going, that's the easiest time of the day. I had the perfect start, I birdied my first hole this morning, No. 10.

Then I kind of dried up again. I bogeyed 14, I hit it in the right rough. And then I was striking it a little bit, 15 I pulled it left again off the tee, and I saved par on 15, which was good. And from 16 in, I played almost as good as I could. I think I made one more bogey on the 4th hole. But other than that, I played as good as I could. I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. I missed a couple of putts, but I'm happy with it, I am. It's two rounds under 70 around this place, for me that's nice.

Q. How tempted were you on 9 to give that a go?

ERNIE ELS: I was quite tempted, but then, again, you look at your target and there's nothing there, you know. I had 260-odd yards in downwind, and that's a perfect 3-wood for me. But, you know, you miss it just by a couple of yards right, and then in the lap of the gods, you know, you get a good lie. The green is so firm that it's tough to stop a sand iron on the green. So if the flag is back, I might have a go if I have the same yardage again.

But this golf course, you've just got to stay patient and just stay in the moment.

Q. It seems like there's a lot of holes where you can be in the lap of the gods, as you put it.

ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. On the 4th hole when I made bogey today, I was coming from a little different angle. I only had 100 yards to the flag, but I had to get it over this little pot bunker, and if it carried another yard further, I would have been five or six feet, but it landed a yard too short and hit the back of the downslope of the bunker and it shot forward, almost went in the water on the left. That's a Pete Dye design; it's very penal for mediocre shots, you know. You've got to be spot on. If you just miss it by a yard or two on the wrong side, you could be making double.

Q. If you are spot on it's a 64, 65 course, isn't it?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, if the greens are receptive like they were this morning, sure, absolutely. I think that's the way Scottie played yesterday morning, he was on, he was aggressive, and the greens were holding and he was spot on.

Q. You talked a couple of weeks ago about Augusta maybe not being quite as fun as it used to be. Do you look forward to playing this one? Not the tournament, but just this golf course?

ERNIE ELS: What, this one?

Q. Yes.

ERNIE ELS: To be honest with you, I've never really had a great time around here (laughter). There were a couple of years when I played well. I think four or five years I finished in the top-20 or so, which was really good. But you know my game; I like where I have a bit of room off the tees and you can have some fun.

But my ball-striking so far, touch wood, has been very good, you know. It reminds me of the start of the year again, and I'd like to build on that. I want to forget about how tough the golf course is and play the shots that I need to play and see what I end up, just give it a full go for once.

Q. You mentioned Adam and you guys were on the team for The Presidents Cup thing. Is there any more polite kid out here?

ERNIE ELS: No, no. He's the best. He's a good friend of mine, and we play a lot of golf together. He's going to be a great player. He's already a good player, but he's going to be a great player one day, and I don't think he's going to change. I think his attitude, the way you see him today, if you speak to him in 10, 20 years' time, he'll be the same kid, and that's great. He's got a hell of a game, too.

Q. If you're playing a course you don't really like where you haven't played well, such as this, what's your mindset going in? Are you less optimistic when you start here?

ERNIE ELS: Well, as a professional golfer, you want to go into every week and feel that you've got a chance to win and you want to give yourself the best chance. I'm just saying my results in the past hasn't been up to my standard, you know, and that's kind of basically what I'm saying. And sometimes you look at the golf course, does the golf course fit my game? Not really, but I still feel that when I'm on my game and my ball-striking is good, I'll have a good week this week, and that's what I was hoping for before this week started.

I mean, Bay Hill is more of my type of golf course. But I missed the cut there, and this is not right up my ballpark, but I'm right there. So it just shows you this game has gone crazy at times.

Q. I don't know what's going to happen with Tiger today, but he's got this 119 cuts in a row thing running, which is after your streak into last week is the next longest is Mike Weir with 19, or 100 fewer. You've been asked this before, but what is the magnitude of something like that and stringing that together and showing up week in and week out in your mind?

ERNIE ELS: That's a hell of a streak there, I tell you, 119. I don't think it's all that accurate. I think a lot of those so-called cuts, you know, also are four-round events, and so it's near 100 or 90, which is also unbelievable. So it's still a great streak. Knowing Tiger, he'll go back out there and try to get himself back in the tournament, not try and make the cut. I'm sure that's his mindset today. And if you ask him afterwards, that's probably what he's going to try to do. So, yeah -- that's kind of what I think.

Q. I know you'd like to add a green jacket and a Wannamaker trophy in the resume. Where does this fit in as titles that you hunt?

ERNIE ELS: This is right up there. This is behind a major, obviously. The golf course the way they've set it up the last couple of years is as tough or maybe even tougher than some of the majors. It's definitely the strongest field, one of the strongest fields of the year. I think the PGA is right up there also. And if you look at the champions, most of them or all of them have won majors, 90 percent of them have won majors, and it's a hell of a trophy to have. We get a little bit of input into the tournament, you know, and it's kind of our tournament. So it's right up there.

Q. I have to ask this shameless hometown question. You're going to be captain of this thing on Monday and Tuesday. Are you ready for that kind of awesome responsibility? Are you going to be able to ride shotgun over those guys?

ERNIE ELS: I'm nervous already. No, our pairings have been made, everything is set, everything is on the go. And we'll have our team meeting in the morning, and we'll set out to beat the crap out of Isleworth.

Q. Did you hear that Lian-Wei Zhang is playing at The Masters?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, hopefully he comes up and thanks me (laughter).

Q. Obviously we don't know him very well. You know him better than us.

ERNIE ELS: He's a very hard worker. Whatever he's achieved, he's worked for. He's probably the only world class golfer coming out of China right now, and he's won a couple of tournaments. He won a tournament last year in Singapore, and he's played some Dunhill Cups for China. You know, he's the biggest star they have, golfing-wise, over there. So this will be huge for that country, for him to play in The Masters.

Q. Was that the spike mark tournament, where you had the spike mark sticking up about yea --


Q. For someone who's played just about every Tour, do you think the boys in Europe are getting too many points or not enough?

ERNIE ELS: A good question. It's really turned around the last ten years or so. I remember when Faldo and Langer and even Seve -- who else -- there were a bunch of guys that mainly played Europe. And in those days Faldo was No. 1, Langer was right up there, he was like top five for many years, Seve was right up there, Sandy Lyle was up there. I remember the point system used to really favor Europe.

And then the last, especially the last six, seven years it's totally swung around the other way, mainly because of the purses we play for every year. So the guys want to obviously play for more money, the fields become stronger, a lot of the European guys came over here. Then Tiger came around and I started playing a lot moreover here, and it kind of started bunching up again on this side of the Atlantic.

So they've got a lot of players in the top-20, Darren, Padraig --

Q. No one in the Top 10?

ERNIE ELS: There's no one in the Top 10. But it's a good question. I'm sure that the European Tour, there's guys like Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter -- they'll take a lot of points away from the European Tour.

Q. I think for some in America, this perspective over here, they question how good these guys are, whether they should be getting that many points, being ranked that high, is the answer in the Majors, in the World Championships, and in the tournaments where you and Tiger play, is that how they should -- is that --

ERNIE ELS: I think they should look at it, definitely, and when Tiger plays and Davis Love plays, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, myself, that's a pretty strong tournament. You've got a lot of points in that tournament those type of -- those players aren't playing every week. Other players play a lot of weeks, you know. So they've really got to try to find a balance, where other guys can make points. Because otherwise if they don't play in the right tournaments, they're never going

to -- even if they play well, they're not really going to shoot up to world rankings. They've got to play in the strong events to make up a lot of points and finish well.

So they've got to find a balance of, you know, how to work this thing. I mean I'm sure it's pretty tough. So there's so many golf tournaments around the world each and every week. There's probably three, you know. And over here it's obviously the stronger fields. And you get more points over here. So other Tours are going to suffer at the end of the day.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Go through the birdies and bogeys. Start with 10.

ERNIE ELS: I hit a 3-wood off the tee, 8-iron to about 14 feet.

14 was a bogey. I hit driver right, hit it short left in the bunker, out 15 feet, missed it.

16 was a driver, 5-iron and two-putted from the bottom of the slope about 25 feet.

1 was a 3-wood, sand iron to about three feet.

2 was a driver, 5-iron, left of the hole about 30 feet, two-putted.

7 I hit a driver, 6-iron. I made it from about 16 feet.

I missed about a 12 footer on 9.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Sand wedge there.

Q. What did you do last week, some of the things you did last weekend, and was there some positives to come out of that? Did you need a kick in the pants at all to set up these two weeks?

ERNIE ELS: I don't think I needed it. I was kind of fired up to play Bay Hill. But somehow my putting was just terrible, and my iron play was off a little bit, also. So I shot 1-over the first day on the front nine. I shot even and I shot 1-under and even again. So it wasn't like I played total crap, but there was definitely something missing, and I think it was my short game. Now, I didn't really practice much over the weekend. I just thought I'd take some time off and come up here early. I came up here Monday to have a look. But, no, --

Q. Did you watch the tournament?

ERNIE ELS: No, no, I didn't really want to watch. It kind of hurts. When you miss a cut, that's not a good feeling.

Q. I was going to ask you, did 19 hurt? Did you take pride in going to 19? Did you know the number? Did you know you had a streak going yourself? How much pride did you take in that?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that was nice. I think it was two and a half or two years ago, you know, I think New Orleans was the last time I missed a cut on this Tour. To play worldwide not missing a cut for two years, that was nice.

End of FastScripts.

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