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March 4, 2009

Ernie Els


DOUG MILNE: We'd like to welcome Ernie Els, defending champion of the Honda Classic, into the interview room. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us. Maybe just a couple comments on the win last year and kind of how you're set to defend heading into the week.
ERNIE ELS: Well, obviously it was a great week last year, and a tough week. You know, it's not an easy golf course, par-70. I remember the last day, it was quite windy. I had a good start and played a really good front nine. I actually played a good back nine, but didn't make too many birdies.
I think I bogeyed 17, which is a very difficult par 3. I managed to par 18 and then I had to wait and see who was going to catch me. Luke had the best chance, and he just came up short on 18 for birdie.
So it was great, a very good win for me obviously. I haven't had too many in the last couple of years, so obviously very nice, especially on a tough golf course. Yeah, just waiting to play the Pro-Am this afternoon and check out the golf course again and get some memories back from last year.
DOUG MILNE: Okay. Well, we know you have a Pro-Am time coming up soon, so we'll just open up for a few quick questions.

Q. There's no overseed on the greens this year, does that factor into how it could play?
ERNIE ELS: It could. If it gets dry and windy, like it has been, it's going to be firm and very fast. It will be very difficult. You're going to have to hit fairways, and then probably play away from some flags. It's going to be tough to get the ball up-and-down if you miss a green. I think it might make a bit of a difference.
We've had some rain this morning. Might have softened things up a little bit. But I think it will be a little different. You'll have to figure out the grain more than last year. So, we'll see.

Q. We're kind of starting the run-up to Augusta now, so if you could indulge me on a couple questions related to that.

Q. There's been a lot written about how some of the fireworks are gone, going back to the year you and Phil basically through everything you had at the golf course and there were some dividends for it. Was the course too hard, or do you think that was just a function of weather or have they made it so difficult that there's no wiggle room to allow for weather now, and that's the tipping the point?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think you've said it all. (Laughter).
I think you're right. 2004 was the last time there was really a nice shootout. I think even if you look at years before 2004, there were a lot more years where there were more exciting finishes.
You could reach a lot of the par 5s. You could take on some of the holes with shorter irons, especially like No. 7, like No. 11. 17 was even shorter. 15, the par 5, you could reach, longer hitters, with maybe a long middle iron. 13 you could get to the green a lot easier. And as I said, 11 was short, so you could go in there with a short iron.
And these greens are all very difficult. They were built by Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones, and there's a lot of slope on that golf course, as you guys know; you've walked it. So there's going to be a lot of slope on the greens naturally; and with the speed of the greens, and as we've seen the weather last couple of years, it's going to be very difficult.
To be honest, the guys are very good on TOUR, but then they will play away from flags, and it's just natural. Like 11, you're coming in with a 3-iron or maybe even a 5-wood with the wind whipping into you, 50-degrees, you're not going to go for the flag. It's impossible. Whether you say hey, the players are not good enough or whatever, the fact of the matter is, professionals are not going to go for a par 4 with water on the left, flag tucked left with wind figured in; you're playing safe.
So that's been the case. I think the last couple of years, especially the final rounds, it's been a bit subdued, and that's going to keep happening if they keep the golf course the same way.
I hear they have changed some things, so we will wait and see. I'll go check out the golf course and see what it's all about, and see where to go from there. But they have definitely -- you know, Mr. Johnson, when he took over as Chairman, he made a lot of changes, and we've got to live by those changes now. And the course is one of the toughest courses in the world now.

Q. That said, are you as excited at this time of year getting ready for that as you've always been? Is your hunger to win that tournament as much as it ever has been?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. I still have a goal to complete the Grand Slam, and that will stay with me until I stop playing out here.
Yeah, I always try and get my game figured out and get some confidence going before the Masters gets around. That's the goal again. Playing tough courses here in Florida; you play well here, you're going to set yourself up for a good Masters. So that's on my mind.
Yeah, although they have changed the course since I played in the early 90s until now, it's two totally different places to go to. But you still get excited. It's still the Masters.

Q. How does moving to South Florida affect your preparation? The Bear's Club and Seminole, do they offer chances?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, they get the greens really fast. The slope at the Bear's Club is quite severe. I actually played there yesterday afternoon, and yeah, they are firm, fast and quicker.
Seminole, unfortunately my amateur just pulled out on me. He's got to be in London, so I'm sad and happy; I've got a day off. (Laughter) I won't be at Seminole this year, but I've played there in my off time, and they get the greens really fast, so it's good preparation.

Q. What was your reaction to Trevor's victory last year, and how far back does your relationship with him go when he was an amateur junior?
ERNIE ELS: First of all, it was unbelievable to see Trevor win. I missed the cut, unfortunately. I stayed in Augusta on Saturday watching television, watching the broadcast, and you know, I thought he was swinging the best of all the guys they showed that day. I called him and I said exactly that to him. I don't know how much he took in, but I just wanted him to know that -- because you don't see other players play while you're playing. But I just wanted him to know that I thought he was swinging the best of everybody playing there. And he was playing the most solid golf.
You know, obviously, Gary called him, a lot of people called him and he had a lot of support, but at the end of the day, he had to do the job the next day, and I thought he did a great job. You know, basically, nobody has won the Masters since Gary, since '78, so it was a big deal for South Africa and a big steppingstone for him in his career.
I've known Trevor ever since he was five, six years old. He used to play amateur golf a lot down in the Cape, Cape Town area. Used to play a lot with his brother, and Trevor always used to be around hitting shots playing shots around the course, kind of bothering us. (Laughter).
It's great to see him. He's always been a phenomenal player, and he's been close winning U.S. Amateurs and British Amateurs, so he's basically been, like these younger guys, a pro since he was 17 years old.

Q. So it's not a surprise to anyone that has known him that long that he was going to make that step?
ERNIE ELS: He was the next guy, the next guy out of South Africa to do something big. It's always great to see it but it was not the biggest surprise because he always had the talent. But still, to prove it and to do it, was great to see.

Q. So much attention is always paid to whether Tiger is in a tournament or whether Tiger is not in a tournament; do the players look, also, and think differently when Sergio is in a tournament or when he's not, like he is this week? Does it change the way the tournament feels?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think he brings more to a tournament now. I think he's been around a long time. As we call him on the international tours, they call him a star player. He's been around a long time and he's won a good amount of golf tournaments. And he brings a Latin flavor, especially to south Florida, him and Camilo. Although he has not won a major, he's definitely one of the top players in the world. He brings a lot of star power to the golf tournament, yeah. Not as much as Tiger, but he brings more to a tournament.

Q. Geoff Ogilvy said last week, getting back to the Masters, he said if somebody built that golf course today, Augusta National and it didn't have the tradition and the aura and it was the same green complexes and the same speeds and the same difficulty, the pros would walk off it after nine holes and say it's ridiculous.
ERNIE ELS: Well, I won't go that far. (Laughter) It is what it is.
As I said, you know, I'm a fan of Alister MacKenzie's design. We play Royal Melbourne down in Australia where Geoff is from. He plays at Victoria, which is across the road. It has some of the greens, some of the speeds and more wind than Augusta has. And we play golf tournaments down there, too.
He is right in the fact that he says that they kept on, how shall I say, massaging the golf course, to the point where, yes, at times when the weather turns and flag positions are in certain parts, it becomes very much on the edge.
In some cases, yeah, some of the years, some of the rounds we've played there, it's been almost to the point where it's laughable. But, hey, we play a major there. It's still a very good layout, and they just try and test the players. At times, they have gone maybe past the point.

Q. I was just wondering what young guys, you talked about Rory last week, so we can leave him out; I know what you think about him. What other young guys have you seen over the last few months while that window was open and you know who was on the sideline that sort of stepped up and took advantage of the opening and got their foot in the door?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think I would say Sergio. He's got himself all the way up to No. 2 in the world now, winning THE PLAYERS Championship; Tiger was there. He won some tournaments around the world while Tiger wasn't around. He finished with a lot of Top 3s, top 5s in majors. I would say obviously Anthony, he's really stepped it up. He's one of the players of the future now.
You've got to help me out here a little bit.

Q. Camilo?
ERNIE ELS: Camilo, winning late last year, two, and getting close again in San Diego, he's definitely got the confidence and I would say the aura around them that he can sustain it.
You know, Adam, he's still a hell of a player. He finished second at Sony. I feel he's a good player.

Q. Are you surprised with some of the older guys, in the 38, 39, 40 range?
ERNIE ELS: Phil has done well, winning now in L.A., I think also he's had a very good year last year. Maybe the end he didn't play very well in the majors, but he's very much there, just about every week.
Padraig obviously made the biggest move winning those majors.
I think overall, there's been, if you look from Top-30 all the way to No. 2 in the world, there's players who have made big moves, who have really played a lot of good golf. Maybe those kind of players will start breaking through soon now.

Q. Do you mind a question on the Tavistock Cup? It is coming up soon. As captain, can you just talk about what appeals to you about that event, and also, are you surprised at the appeal it has outside the communities there?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I think that tournament has grown so fast, so quickly; so big, so quickly. Obviously, again, you've got some really star players playing in those teams, especially with Tiger. Wherever Tiger goes, you know you're going to have great media attention and people want to watch him play. He's the biggest draw obviously.
And we have got some pretty decent players on both sides of the clubs. We've got Stenson and Poulter, Rose on our side, and you have some really great players on the other side.
So it's kind of a good mix and it's played in a good spirit. It's not too intense, but you know, we try and show some good golf there and play in the right spirit of the game.
And obviously with Joe Lewis and the Tavistock Group, really pampering and looking after the players, to be honest, really gets their attention, too. It makes for a nice, enjoyable couple of days. We enjoy it. They get the courses in good shape. You know, it's competitive golf. Good, competitive golf in a good spirit.

Q. Going back to the younger guys, Camilo spends an awful lot of time I think in the gym working out. What kind of influence or effect has that had on you? Do you find yourself going and doing the same kind of things at this point?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, definitely. I think we all have to stay in pretty good shape, especially when you get older, almost into your 40s now.
I've taken that to heart. I think they are changing the game for really the younger generation. You'll see the younger generation coming through and they have all got the arms and the pecs and the six-backs and all of that. It makes the game look better. It makes the game cool, you know. Even the dress sense has changed a lot out here.
All in all, I think the product of the TOUR is starting to look more athletic and more healthy. I think it's all good. It makes us, makes everybody work harder.

Q. You mentioned 1978, seeing Gary Player. Can you talk me back to that time and how that was an inspiration to you and how it shaped your desire to win at Augusta?
ERNIE ELS: Well, that was the imprint in my head about Augusta was watching Gary win. Obviously he was a hero of mine, still is, from South Africa. You know, watching your hero win the biggest tournament in the world is quite something, and then especially him making that putt on 18. And then it was Seve next to him going crazy; he was almost more happy than Gary was.
Seve at that time being maybe, I don't know how old he was, maybe 20, 21 years old. That gave me the imprint of really wanting to go there and playing there and becoming a professional golfer and wanting to be in that same situation.
I think any youngster at that age, the age I was at ten years, nine years old, you want to have a hero to look up to and you want to become like your hero. And that goes into all walks of life, you need some kind of inspiration, and that's what he was to me.
DOUG MILNE: Ernie, we appreciate your time as always and best of luck as always.

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