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March 26, 2010

Ernie Els


DOUG MILNE: Ernie, thank you for joining us for a few minutes after a solid second round, 3-under 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a couple of nice birdies coming down the stretch. Just a few comments on how you're feeling as you're headed into the weekend. You have to feel good about where you are.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I feel very good. I mean, starting out yesterday the front nine, I was a little out of sorts with my swing, and kind of made a lot of pars. I think I turned at 1-under or 2-under yesterday morning, and played a really good back nine.
And today was kind of similar. You know, didn't quite have my rhythm. I made quite a few errors and I was 2-over through six holes. Got it up-and-down out of the bunker on 7 out of a plugged lie for par and then I started hitting good shots. I birdied 8 and 9.
So then I felt comfortable again. So it's been kind of weird, but a little surprised that I'm in the lead, but, you know, we're there. Obviously Davis had a great round going this morning, and let it slip a little bit, so let a lot of other guys in.
So should be an interesting weekend, and obviously looking forward to it.

Q. I didn't quite understand your situation on 6 and making par there. Could you talk about those two holes? As being the face a slapper?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, exactly. I 3-putted on 5. On 4 I hit such a bad drive, and that was kind of worrying because it was way left. I think I saw Steve walking up to my ball there and I was like in between two holes there. Made a good par. Hit two really good shots on 5, 3-putted and that really got me angry.
You know, you don't want to be in that frame of mind standing on the sixth tee. Wind was coming into, I hit it really solid but I pulled it. I almost made it. Pitched just on the bank and rolled back in the water.
And that was a big break, because if that ball was another yard left it would have been into the deep end, should I say. The ball was lying there and I could play it, so I chipped it out of the water, and then hit a 4-iron just right of the green and up-and-down for par. That was big.
Then 7 was also big when I got it up-and-down out of the plugged lie.

Q. On the water ball, how much of it was showing?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, just lying in a little bit of water, kind of on beach, water. So it was unlucky and lucky.

Q. Have to take your shoes off or anything?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, shoes off, one slip away from going snorkeling.

Q. Nice golf socks tan you were showing out there.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, exactly. I didn't get in my boxers. I'll never do that. (Laughter).

Q. Why does it take something like that to either settle you down or find a stride?
ERNIE ELS: It's just, you know, on this course, that's why I was happy yesterday to start on the back nine because on the back nine you can get into a little bit of a flow. On the first hole, you have one of the more difficult holes. On the second, you have one of the more difficult holes. On 3, you have water left. So you have to be on your guard right from the first tee at Bay Hill.
I had a very good warmup but just felt a little uncomfortable, don't know why. But obviously settled down after that.

Q. How is the putter working? I haven't heard you raise any concerns about that, so it must be all good?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, really good. Saw Marius before I went out and just told him I'm feeling comfortable, he doesn't have to give me any new stuff. I feel okay. I feel good. You know, from tomorrow on, I just want to be on my game from the start.

Q. 17, what did you hit there?
ERNIE ELS: I with as going to hit 6-iron, but Ricci pulled me off like a veteran and put 5-iron in my hand. It was the right club. So I hit it. Yeah, it was a beautiful little fade shot, about three feet. That was probably the shot of my tournament so far.

Q. You make it sound like Ricci gets it right all the time.
ERNIE ELS: I said to him, I think this break that we have obviously is keeping everybody sharp. (Laughter).

Q. You sure you want to go into Augusta with a change on the bag?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think it's going to be a great change. Again, I think -- can you imagine Dan, it will be a dream come true for him. Can you imagine how excited he's going to be? Not that Ricci's not going to be, but I think it's a great change for us. I know the course so well. I don't need to know anything more. I know where the greens are breaking to. I've just got to go out and play the course and enjoy it. Try and enjoy it.

Q. I want to ask you a quick Masters question. You've gone to a number of majors and a number of Masters in good form and as a strong favorite, and you have to putt up with the expectations that the press asks you going into Thursday; we don't know what's going to happen, but I would guess there would be so much singular focus on one event that guys like you and Steve Stricker and whoever else might be left to your own devices for the week. Can you talk about that and have you considered that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. I think it's obviously going to be the biggest thing in sport that week. Not that Augusta has to shy away from anything, but especially with Tiger coming back, I think it's going to be unbelievably big.
I'm not sure how all of the press, all of the journalists from around the world are going to get into the gate at Augusta, but I'm sure you guys will be okay. (Laughter).
It's going to be a huge event, and I think one of the positives from Tiger's perspective, I think doing his press conference Monday and getting it out of the way for his sake and everybody's sake. I think you're absolutely right. I think a lot of the golf -- people are not going to be talking about losing form until probably Thursday morning when we start the event. It's going to be all about Tiger and him coming back and everything.
So I think we will all be sideshows until Thursday morning. And I think we're fine with that. Everybody's fine with that.

Q. You'd be fine with that every major, wouldn't you?
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. (Laughter).

Q. Just to get to that point for a minute, it seems like over the last, say, month, we have gone from kind of a disparate group of players to a lot of strong players all winning. I think about eight or nine guys all within the Top-30 have been winning lately, whether it's Camilo or Furyk or yourself, etc. This looks like it's heading to be kind of a wide-open year?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think it could be one hell of a year. I think a lot of the young players like Camilo; I played with Sean O'Hair today, J.B. Holmes today; there's Dustin Johnson. Really they have shown their mettle so far, and other guys, myself, Furyk.

Q. Poulter.
ERNIE ELS: Poulter, is he old? You're right, there's a really good group of players playing well, and I think that bodes very well for the first major and for the rest of the year. I think there's a healthy group of players that are really playing on a good level. Nobody is going to walk away -- well, it's not going to be a walk-over for anybody.

Q. As Dan gets ready to go to Augusta, will he, has he kicked Ricci's brain as far as how he should be getting ready for that? Will Ricci be a phone call away?
ERNIE ELS: They have been very supportive towards each other. Ricci's given us at the Match Play in Arizona, Ricci gave us his yardage book, because there's a lot of elevation changes there, and I like to have the numbers from the previous year. So he gave me that.
They have spoken about it. I'm going up on Monday, taking Dan with me, so we'll have a good look around.
Basically, you know, he's such a great guy. I need support more than somebody telling me where to hit it and where to hit the putts, because I've been there so many times. I just need a strong guy next to me, and he is and he's got a good character and he's a good friend. So we'll team up well together.

Q. Can you talk maybe just briefly about your mind-set, how you're sort of finding yourself in the lead and now you're in the lead a little bit more, and I'm wondering if that is a self-sustaining thing; you get there and you're like, I remember how this feels?
ERNIE ELS: To be honest with you, I'm not thinking about it. I'm just thinking about, you know, playing good golf. That's all I want to think about. I want to think about getting my game in shape for Augusta. I'm thinking about getting my short game in great shape. I'm thinking about my putting all the time. I'm just thinking about getting my stuff together and keeping it together, you know what I'm saying. (Laughter) And that's all I can do and control. If I can be ready to play, I think I'll be okay.
So that's all I'm thinking. Coming down Sunday, obviously you're going to think about the win. I've just got to keep doing things where I'm at and I've got to keep on producing, put it that way.

Q. Was what happened on 6 and 7 an example of almost losing it, but keeping it together?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I said to Ricci on 6, I was a yard away from not probably being in the tournament anymore, because that would have been a sure double-bogey. I would have gone back to even par for the tournament, and now it was a battle for making a cut and trying to get yourself in red figures again.
The ball stayed up. Could have been very perfect but it wasn't disastrous and I played the ball and made 5 and got out of there and started rebuilding again. I don't know if it was the break or my mental strength at the moment. I'm not sure. But, you know, got through that little patch and started building again.

Q. Would you have had to re-tee, back of the tee box?
ERNIE ELS: No, I saw the ball land. I knew it landed under the line. But I just wanted to go see if I could play it. If I couldn't play it, I would have had to go all the way back to the tee because it didn't cross the line.

Q. You were desperate for par at that point?
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely. There and 7. 7 was also a turning point.

Q. Which bunker was that?
ERNIE ELS: Front right.
DOUG MILNE: Thank you.

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