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March 29, 2010

Ernie Els


DOUG MILNE: Ernie, 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational Champion, your second win in as many starts. With the win you move to No. 1 in the FedExCup standings, and you've obviously got the momentum going as you head first to Houston, but then the Masters. Let's talk about this week and kind of how you're feeling as you get the win under you your belt.
ERNIE ELS: For a while there, it looked like it was going to be maybe a little easier than down in Miami. I expected Charl Schwartzel in Miami to come at me, which I did, and I countered that with a lot of birdies and had one long par putt.
But I guess there's a bit more trouble around Bay Hill. You know, I had I think a four- or five-shot lead through 12 holes yesterday, looking very good. I told the guys there, I was a bit aggressive on 13. The wind was blowing into us yesterday afternoon, and just went into the bunker. I had a perfect lie, but just not a very good yardage, and I basically hit my ball up. I missed the shot, and came up short, where you can't miss it.
When I made that mistake, the whole thing changed. Then I bogeyed 14. Then they blew the siren, and now all of the sudden I only have a two-shot lead, and Kevin Na and a lot of other players in the mix, as well.
The whole thing changed from being very comfortable to being just as tense as I've been for a long time. Last night was quite an evening. We went for dinner, but I couldn't get the mistakes out of my head and what I had to do this morning to win and what the weather was going to be like. Just a lot of uncertainty. You know, I played a little bit of nervous golf today, too. I missed my second shot on 15, left, and hit a very mediocre pitch shot and I made a very good putt there.
But then I hit my tee shot right on 16. I had a shot out of there, laid it up; I saw Kevin Na making birdie, so I knew I was only one ahead. So I made a solid par there.
And then 17, I thought I hit the shot of the tournament for me. I went right at it with a 4-iron and now it came up short, and then I was worried because it was plugged. You know, anything can happen out of a plugged lie. But I hit a very good shot out of there and made an even better putt.
And then I saw Kevin hit a drive right on 18, and I heard the crowd when I was walking away from the tee. I could hear the crowd, his reaction, so I knew he made bogey. And then I hit another beauty on my second shot on 18. I tried to just play it left, hit it a bit too far left and I got the ball up-and-down from there.
So it was a hard struggle today, and you know, I really -- if I can say it, I really earned this one. From being very comfortable to being very uncertain, two very different wins.

Q. Can you talk about, how does it feel different to win two in a row, as opposed to winning one, because you've done it I think three times now?
ERNIE ELS: It feels special. I think if you're a betting man, you know, you would have got really good odds anywhere in the world that Ernie Els would win two tournaments in a row, you know.
I know a lot of guys basically have written me off, you know, and a lot of guys probably said it was a fluke in Miami. It was hard work this week, but you know, two wins is definitely special. I'll just keep working hard. There's still a lot of flaws in my game that I've got to figure out and get right. I know I'm never going to play the game perfectly, but I can still improve.
But, yeah, to come back to your question, it's an amazing feeling, really. It can be one of the toughest games, cruellest games in the world, and then you sit here, it's one of the nicest games. I could have been very despondent after this if I didn't get the ball up-and-down on 15, 17, 18. But somehow I got the ball up-and-down so I'm hitting here, so very grateful.

Q. Can you draw any comparisons with how you are now with early '03, the last time you put together a nice streak like this?
ERNIE ELS: I was basically really in my, I don't want to say prime; I'm in my prime now. But I was really playing great golf. I was hitting the ball miles. I remember in Hawaii, I was just bombing the ball and I think I went 31-under par there, and then winning the next week. I went around the world, won some more; it was almost a free-for-all, you know, it was great.
This time around, I'm not travelling as much. I'm playing a lot. I've got Houston coming up now. I'd like to have a knee problem or a back problem (chuckling). But I'm going to go there. I can't withdraw now. I've committed to the tournament, and I could work on, like I said, on a couple of flaws that I've shown under pressure.
If I'm into contention, it will be great, and if I'm not, that's also fine. I just want to have a nice, easy week, play golf, and get ready for Augusta.
But to come back to your question, you know, I want to make this a special year, especially after these two wins. But I still have a lot of work left and there are a lot of majors left, and that's going to be fun now.

Q. In some ways does winning when it gets to be this tense and this hard, can you actually build on that even more?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think mentally, this was a huge struggle for me today, and yesterday. Like I mentioned, I had it all covered, basically and made those mistakes. Hopefully I can learn from that. But I will take a lot out of this. It just shows you that I still have a little bit of fight left. When it mattered, I got the ball up-and-down. A couple of good breaks, made some really good putts under pressure, so hopefully that will help me into the future, but it was big today, to get the ball up-and-down eventually.

Q. Is this the best you've ever putted in the six, eight, ten feet range?
ERNIE ELS: I was pretty good in the 90s. This is the way it was back then. I was pretty solid from the eight-foot-and-in-range. I wasn't there the last five or six years.
I feel a bit more comfortable now.

Q. You originally were going to go to Augusta today. Is that going to be scrapped now? Can you fit that in still?
ERNIE ELS: I think I might go up tomorrow. I'll drive down; Liezl and Samantha, they went to Europe for the weekend, can you believe it. So they are coming home today and be home tonight. I might go up tomorrow morning, and then go to Houston maybe Wednesday morning just before the Pro-Am.
Been watching the weather, the weather looks okay for now, touch-wood, in Houston, so that might be good. Yeah, I'd like to take Dan up there tomorrow and just show him around a little bit. I've been there so many times. I know a lot of guys said I should take Ricci, but we have made a decision. I've spoken to Ricci and Dan about it and they are happy and we'll stick with it.
You know, I don't think anybody can tell me anything more about Augusta than I already know. I've had local caddies take me through there. I've had everybody take me through there. So I know exactly where everything goes.

Q. Your thoughts on the value of consecutive wins heading toward Augusta and the confidence that that gives?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I would love to have played this tournament right before Augusta. But it's amazing, you know, I said it to Mr. Palmer down there; the finishing holes are just incredibly difficult. Obviously I made it a bit more difficult with my play, but you know, just thinking about 15, you've got to put it in the fairway, you've got a middle to long iron in there. I've got 16, that's a break, but 17 and 18 are just incredibly difficult.
To par in, I know it wasn't textbook, but to get the ball up-and-down and to try and hit those shots will definitely help me. On 18, I was standing on the tee and I was thinking, don't think about this week. Think about how you're going to hit this tee shot at Augusta, because it's exactly the same shot. I had to hit a little fade and I opened up my body nicely and hit a perfect fade down there. I was just trying to imagine that I had to hit this shot at Augusta.
So there's a lot of little games that you play with yourself, as you know, and this week was good for me.

Q. You've had a couple of wins where you've had a big lead, let everybody back into it, and then pulled away and won; do you take that as a negative that you're not breaking their neck or a positive that you're resilient enough to not let it get away from you?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I had the opportunity this week to definitely -- I said to Ricci on 18 green. I said, "We made it very tough on ourselves." Like I mentioned, I basically let at least 15 guys back in it by my mistakes on 13 and 14 yesterday, and I've got to learn from that.
You know, I felt very comfortable hitting the ball very soundly and then you know, in a matter of seconds, you know, you can change the whole complexity of it. And that's what I did.
Back in the 90s, I won quite a few tournaments running away, and I felt I was very close to it this week. I know Miami ended up I won by four, but it was a lot closer than on paper. Yeah, I can be annoyed by that; I am, actually, annoyed by it, especially this week, because I let the guys in by a very silly mistake.

Q. Take anything away, the fact that you don't let it get all the way away from you?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'm a different player. I'm a different person. My head is ticking a little bit differently than it's been. So I'm a little bit more comfortable.

Q. How would you assess the changes Mr. Palmer made to the course last year, and how would you compare the way it played to when you won previously?
ERNIE ELS: No, I think it's brilliant. The shaping is different. The bigger bunkers, you know, they have the edges that flow through the bunkers. I think it's very well designed.
Some of the new green complexes are good. They are really tough pin positions. I mean, 11-under won. I know I was 14-under through 67 holes, but, you know, for a par 72,11-under winning, that's pretty good. That's where, as a designer, that's where you want the winning score to be. As a designer, you don't want to feel that the guys are ripping your golf course apart, and I think he's achieved his goal. Anything from 10- to 16-under on a par-72 course means that the course is playing tough.

Q. Did you get a good night's sleep, and when you woke up, were you still struggling, trying to go through the self-doubts that you had after yesterday?
ERNIE ELS: Well, we win for an early dinner and dinner didn't taste great, I must admit. (Smiling).
Got home, watched a bit of television, actually was in bed earlier, I was in bed at 9:30. When I went to bed it was raining and when I woke up at about 2:30, it was still raining. I had a couple of hours in between, but we were thinking we might not even play today, it was raining so heavily.
So it was a really great test for the mind the last 24 hours. It was really pretty tough for me. I'm a guy that puts a lot of pressure on myself and is hard on myself, but I've always been like that. So it wasn't all that easy. I wasn't the Big Easy last night. (Laughter)

Q. You joked out there about wanting to turn the jacket green; how often is the Masters in your head, and do you think the course owes you one?
ERNIE ELS: It's always in my head this time of the year. You try and downplay it, but you do think about it. I mean, today I thought about it on the 72nd hole. I was like, okay, you're standing at Augusta and you've got to hit this hard fade. So even -- and there's different circumstances. You think of shots that you're going to be playing over there. And I always think about it. Especially, as I say this time of year, you always think about it. Practice shots, you try and get a draw going with your driver, and high shots with your irons and you try and have your short game very sharp.
That's what I've been doing, and, you know, obviously I haven't won for such a long time, and now to be able to feel like I can tee it up and play with these boys, it feels good.

Q. Do you think Augusta owes you a good break?
ERNIE ELS: No, I can't say that. 2004, Phil just played great. He beat me. I didn't beat myself.
2000, I felt I left some shots out there when I finished second to Vijay. You know, Vijay birdied 18 to win by three, but it was a lot closer than that.
I've had a lot of Top-10s there and stuff like that. You know, I don't want to say that. I think I'll jinx myself saying that. (Laughing).
But I would say this: I know the history of Augusta pretty well, and there's been a lot of nice stories. There's been a lot of cool ones, thinking of Weiskopf and Norman and myself, but there's also been some really great ones, so we still are hoping for the great one.

Q. How did the conversation go between yourself and Mr. Palmer when you walked off the 18th green?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I had a couple with him. We just spoke about the -- after the prize giving, we spoke about his grandson, Sam. I just said to Arnold that I've seen Sam play -- actually, I've been seeing him around the club here for many years, as an amateur and so forth, you know, him playing the tournament. But he looks like he's really changed his body shape. I said to Arnold, I think his backswing, I would give anything for that backswing. He just is in the perfect position, and he can hit any shot from there.
And actually Arnold, he took satisfaction from that, because he reckons he got him in that position. (Laughter) So he's obviously working with his grandson and that must be a lot of fun.
DOUG MILNE: Ernie, congratulations.

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