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January 28, 2009

Ernie Els


PAUL SYMES: Thanks for coming in, Ernie. As the three-time winner and golf in DUBAI ambassador, this tournament is close to your heart.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, thanks. Been coming here a long time. Yeah, I represent golf in DUBAI, and yeah, I'm happy to be here basically, like every year. They look after us unbelievably. The golf course is always in great shape. It's in good shape again. Mohammed and the guys look after us well and Adrian and his crew; it couldn't be a nicer golf tournament. I'm happy to play.
PAUL SYMES: Is your game in good enough shape to make it four wins?
ERNIE ELS: I'm playing okay. I'm not scoring very well. I started in Hawaii. I played two weeks there, I played Mercedes and the Sony Open. Played pretty well at the first event, but on the third day there, I really had some putting problems. I think that put a little bit of doubt in my head. The last couple weeks I haven't been very comfortable on the greens.
So I'm looking at a new putter this week, and I've been working quite hard on my putting. So hopefully I can get that straightened out and have a good week.
PAUL SYMES: I understand you moved in America last year, as well. How have you settled in there?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that's great. Still got the house at Wentworth. I think we'll keep that, keep that for the summers. It doesn't get very comfortable over the winters there.
But it's a great place. You know, moved to Florida, they have got great facilities there for Ben, who is doing very well at his new school in Palm Beach; and Samantha is very happy with her new school, and I'm a little more comfortable with the weather.
All in all, it's been a pretty nice move. But as I say, I'm keeping Wentworth and my status as a player will not change and I'll play European Tour, U.S. Tour, and other kind of golf tournaments around the world like I've always done. That's not going to change, but especially the move to America has been good for the family.

Q. Your record here could be even better here, couldn't it, because you've had one or two very close scrapes, especially with Tiger last year. Does the course suit you perfectly, your game; is that why you have such a good record here?
ERNIE ELS: I get this question every year the most, and the reply is the same. I just feel comfortable here, just like I mentioned earlier. I feel comfortable with the people involved with the tournament, the crowd, and especially the golf course. I've got some good lines that I follow off the tees.
It's been very similar every year. We've had some different weather conditions through the years, you know, when the winds kick up, it can become tricky. The golf course has always been a little bit different year-to-year. This year, it's very lush, high rough; so you've got to keep the ball a bit more in play I would think, maybe be less aggressive off the tees.
Yeah, I just love the place. I'm coming here since '93, and a lot of you guys have been coming here for a long time. You guys know exactly how this place has changed. So it's nice to be part of something that's going to be around for a long time.

Q. Can you just reflect on last year how close you got; it was the 17th, wasn't it?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, there was a couple. The whole back nine, really. I was really playing good, and even the front nine, I had a lot of opportunities where I missed putts and then you know, when I made the turn, I could see the leaderboards and Tiger and some of the guys were making a run. I couldn't quite -- I think I 3-putted 11. I hit it in the back bunker and came out and I missed a 3-footer there for par, and you know, that unsettled me a little bit.
I played some really good holes after that. I think I birdied 13 and 14 and then I had some birdie chances coming in. And then 17 was definitely a birdie chance that I missed. I remember the wind was blowing quite a bit and I only had about 225 or 230 to the front, and hit a 3-wood pretty well and didn't even come close to making the putting surface.
So that was the disappointing. But you know, I lost to Robert-Jan Derksen one year, I remember him shooting 65 and losing by one to him; losing in the playoff to Tiger another year; playing four rounds with Henrik Stenson one year and losing by one shot.
So, yeah, I've had a lot of success, but I've lost three, four of them by maybe a shot or so. But it's been a good tournament.

Q. In those years you've won, what has it done for your confidence in your game going into the new season?
ERNIE ELS: It's always good to have good events early on just to get a bit of confidence going and get some momentum going. This year I've played three events already and I've had one Top-10.
But as I said, you know, not great finishes since then. You know, last year, I think the Dubai event was my first event and you know, finishing I guess in the top three or top five I felt pretty good about my game going away.
So it's always nice to come to a place and find a bit of form, because before you know, it you're in the Florida Swing and then into the Masters.
The quicker you get form, the better for your confidence.

Q. Is it important to win before going to Augusta?
ERNIE ELS: I think it is. I think it is. Just to settle your nerves. Obviously Augusta when you play and you're in contention, you know, it's a pretty big pressure cooker. It's a lot of pressure there and a lot of tension. So if you can win a tournament, obviously there's tension in itself. So maybe you can overcome a little battle within yourself before you get to a major.

Q. Talking about The Race to Dubai; how much do you think it's going to add to the world of golf?
ERNIE ELS: Oh, unbelievable. It's only the start of the season but as the season goes on, as we play major tournaments and more events on The European Tour, that Race to Dubai is going to be getting more intense and guys will be gunning for that first prize obviously.
So I think it's a great marketing ploy by the sponsors, and it's a great marketing deal for Dubai, just to put it on the map, because it's really becoming a golf destination with all of the new golf courses and stuff.

Q. Considering the recession going on in the world, do you think it's a smart move to attract not only best players in the world but to give competition to the US PGA Tour, because that has sort of had this dominance in world golf.
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. Obviously the Ryder Cup has helped the international tours a lot, especially The European Tour with their great success. And then obviously with guys like George O'Grady getting guys like David Spencer, Leisurecorp and The Race to Dubai guys involved, is wonderful.
The U.S. Tour came out with the FedExCup, which was a big deal; it still is. So The European Tour had to respond with something, and they really came up with a great tournament, a great format.
So the Middle East has been a great ally for Europe and for the Tour, and they have really come up big for The European tour, especially as we say in these times when companies are really struggling.

Q. As a global golfer, what makes Dubai such a golfing destination?
ERNIE ELS: I this it's the weather. At this time of the year, if you look around in Europe, it's minus four or whatever and a lot of snow. So we are playing in 24, 25 degrees of sunshine every day. You know, it's not too far away from Europe. It's pretty central, even to Asia.
We've done a golf course here, and it's always nice for a designer to work with sand. There's a lot of sand around here, so it's easy to move it around and create nice golf holes. We have really enjoyed building here and you know, when the economy turns around, I think this will be a place great for people for second homes and for retirement.

Q. For reasons left unsaid, you moved to America last year; is it going to be difficult for to you fit in the full Race to Dubai in your schedule commuting out of America?
ERNIE ELS: No, no, no. I was asked that question; I don't think you were here.
Actually the move to Florida, because of the family, really great facilities for them there, and me personally, you know, I like to practice through December and January, and I find it quite difficult to do that in the U.K. I'm not used to that kind of weather.
In Florida, we can practice all year round and it's good for the family. I'll play my same schedule. I'll play around the world and keep my status in Europe and do the same in the U.S. and do my same thing as I've always done.
You know, the tours, the schedules have moved around where it's pretty easy to do a worldwide schedule still. I start in Hawaii, obviously coming here was quite a long flight, but I've got three weeks off after this and then I start my U.S. run through to the Masters and then we do a little bit of European golf, the BMW PGA Championship and The European Open, and before that, the Ballantine's in South Korea and back to the U.S. and so forth.
So I'll be playing any same schedule I've always played, so it's not going to be a problem.

Q. So it will be nearer 16 when you add at the end of the season?
ERNIE ELS: Probably, I haven't counted exactly but it's going to be at least 14. I played 17 one year, I think it was two years ago when I had a chance to win the Order of Merit. But I had a bit of a conflict with the two tournaments in Singapore and Valderrama (chuckling). So I won't maybe play 17, I'll play maybe 14.

Q. Have you thought much yet since you spoke in South Africa about the moving of the South African Open to January; is that going to be on your schedule?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I haven't looked at it that far yet, but let's see how the year goes.
Yeah, this year, I only spent 2 1/2 weeks in South Africa, where I normally spent at least a month and a half. So I wouldn't mind sticking around a little bit longer, especially when the English are touring South Africa in cricket; I'd like to go watch that. I might easily stick around a bit longer in January, yeah.

Q. Jack Nicklaus said that golf to be a part of the Olympics; what will the Olympics bring to golf which it already doesn't have?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it will be great for our sport. The Olympics, I mean, how many times can an athlete compete in the Olympics? As golfers, we don't get that chance.
That will be unbelievable for our sport to be included at the Olympics. I know major championships are probably going to still be more important for some players, but to be a part of the Olympic programme and just to be there as an athlete would be unbelievable. I've gone to the Olympics once, obviously as a spectator in 1996 and enjoyed it immensely, and spoke to our South African athletes and found out how special it was for them to go there.
For us to be part of the Olympics would be unbelievable. Just the television audience, you know, you have billions of people watching. So it can really even grow the game even bigger. So I think it will be unbelievable for us to go there.

Q. A local question, Ernie. How many times have you been to the Els Club down the road, and what's your opinion of it?
ERNIE ELS: It's great. I mean, obviously I'm going to say that. No, we are very proud of what we've got there. We have some really nice partners there. You should go there. The golf course is in really good shape.

Q. I've been.
ERNIE ELS: Oh, you have been. Butch Harmon opened his golf school there. Great practice facilities. The clubhouse will be done in September I think.
So we'll have a Big Easy restaurant and bar in there and all kind of fun things. So still a lot of things to come, but really very happy with that golf course, and obviously there's a couple of greens that the guys will not enjoy too much, but you know, you have to make it a bit of a challenge.
I like the golf course.

Q. How many times have you played it?
ERNIE ELS: I've played it a couple of times. I played it on Monday again. I practiced there yesterday morning before the Challenge Match, and I'll probably go there tomorrow morning again. It's nice and quiet and you can get some work done there.

Q. You probably know there's a big announcement here tonight about the European Ryder Cup.
ERNIE ELS: The captaincy, yeah.

Q. As a member of the team that plays the states every other year, do you get amused or bemused about all the hype around the selection process or not?
ERNIE ELS: I think it's fun (laughing).
I think even the players speculate about who is going to be captain and obviously read what you guys write about it. It's kind of a good little hype. It keeps The Ryder Cup alive when it's not being played.
So it's a nice talking point, and when a captain does get chosen, you know, everybody speculates about what they think should have been happening. So at the end of the day, the captain does a lot, but it's up to the players. The players must be up for it.
But I think getting the right captain, I think it showed; you need the right chemistry. It's probably important. So, who knows.

Q. I guess in saying that, you would be looking forward to playing under Greg's captaincy later this year?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm looking forward to that. He's been quite on the go already. He's checked out the hotels and he's been calling us, and he's been in contact with the players who are probably going to make the team. He'll be up for it, I'm sure. So I'm looking forward to that.

Q. Just the way you're a global ambassador for golf, so is Jeev Milkha Singh for India. What makes him so popular considering he's a brand ambassador for the Jumeirah Golf Estates and he's a brand ambassador golf in DUBAI; what makes him so popular in the Middle East? Do you think everyone is trying to capitalise on the Indian market which is relatively unexplored when it comes to golf?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. We're all trying to make a buck some where, aren't we? (Laughing).
No, it's not like that. I think the game in India, especially with your population and your enthusiasm in sport, especially in correct, with a guy like Jeev, and even Shiv and Jyoti, also, they have really taken the game forward and really put the game on the map in India so to speak.
Through the Indian Masters last year when we went there, you could see the popularity with the people in golf. It's only a matter of time before more golf courses will be built in India, and we would like to build golf courses for the people, not do private clubs, because I think the more golf courses you can build, the more opportunity you give to people to take up the game.
And I think that's how it happens in cricket, you just play cricket on any kind of field with a bat and ball. So if you can start doing that in India, I think with the population you have, obviously there's going to be talent there, and there's a lot of youngsters with a lot of good ball sense, eye/hand coordination through their cricket skills and they could take it into golf. Shouldn't be a golf.

Q. Can you compare The Race to Dubai to the IPL, the Indian Premiere League?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, quite a couple of similarities there. It's quite a hyped-up deal obviously and obviously the money is big.
So you are going to get interest from the athletes to come and play. With that, you're going to get a lot of talent competing against each other. That's one way of getting the best together, and I think the IPL have done it, and The Race to Dubai and FedExCup have done that, as well.

Q. As somebody who has also suffered a really bad knee injury, with the anticipation of Tiger's return what, do you think we'll see when he comes back? Are we going to see a different swing?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think Tiger's taken more time off than I did. When did he injure his knee, in June? He's coming back in the middle of March, so what's that, nine months? That's ample time to get yourself ready. I'm sure he's played quite a few rounds of golf now and I'm sure he's hit a lot of golf balls, and he'll know what to do in the swing.
I don't think you're going to see a much different Tiger at all. I think when the knee is healed, when they have done an operation with that tendon, that knee is as strong as it was before, okay.
Obviously putting a knife into your body, you know, you're going to weaken some points, but the knee itself is going to be as strong as it was. So the initial practice sessions you are going through, for maybe a month or two, you will be keeping your weight a little bit off it. It's just normal. I think your brain and your body needs to kind of connect there; you can go and make a full, 100 per cent swing. It will take him a while to do that, and I think that's what he's doing at the moment.
When he starts playing in March, I don't think you'll see a much different Tiger. He won the U.S. Open on one leg; he's pretty talented, so I think he'll be okay. And knowing him, you know, he will be as strong as ever. So I don't think you'll see a much different guy.

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