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June 15, 2010

Ernie Els


BETH MURRISON: Good morning, again, from the 2010 U.S. Open. We're very pleased this morning to have with us two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, playing in his 18th U.S. Open. His first win was 1993, just after the '92 Open here at that time, Pebble Beach. But he did play in the 2000 Open and finished 2nd. He's enjoyed a successful 2010 season so far with two wins on Tour. Can you talk about being back at Pebble Beach for The Open this week.
ERNIE ELS: Sure. It's a wonderful occasion for us always to come back to Pebble. I don't play the tournament on the regular Tour, so I haven't been back in ten years. I got back into town on Sunday. So I played 18 holes Sunday and played nine holes yesterday and I'll go out and play 18 this afternoon and get myself familiar with all the new changes.
But as a venue I don't think you can get a better venue any place in the world. So it's great to be back.
BETH MURRISON: Given that it has been ten years, what are some of the more noticeable things you've seen in terms of changes in the practice you've had so far.
ERNIE ELS: Well, a lot of things are very similar. For one, the range is in the same spot. We're parking our cars in the same spot. And the lodge hasn't changed too much. I know through the years they've lost a tree at 18, but they put in another tree to replicate that one.
I see -- all the holes are exactly the same. There's a little bit more trouble put in play with bunkering. And then obviously they cut the fairways on to the cliffs. So that will be quite a change. And if I remember well the fairways are running a bit more this year than they did in 2000. And I must say the greens are very firm.
But other than that everything is pretty much the same as I've seen it. As I said, they haven't changed any of the shape of any of the holes.

Q. Could you talk a little more about the course, the rough, the fairways and these poa annua greens, the setup?
ERNIE ELS: Really, they've changed a bit. As I say, I came here on Sunday, played 18 holes on Sunday and the greens were a little bit greener. You know, obviously the rough is very thick. It doesn't look very long maybe on television or from a spectator point of view, but when you get in it it's very thick. So it's very difficult to move the ball around when you get in the rough.
They've given us good width to hit the ball into, a lot of the fairways. Some of them are really narrow, like No. 16 and No. 1. But, I mean, those are holes are pretty short. The longer holes they've given us more room to hit the ball into.
But the greens are going to be very tricky. And I went out late yesterday evening and hit some chip shots and putts on the greens. There's a huge difference from the morning to late afternoon, when, as you said, when the poa annua really dries up. When you hit the brown patches, the ball really doesn't stop on the green. So it could get a little bit tricky. But it's a great golf course.

Q. The Springboks are murdering everybody in sight, the cricket team is winning in the West Indies, have you got some act to live up to this week?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. I watched the opening ceremony. My dad is over from South Africa, my mom and dad. So I took them up -- I took my dad up to the northeast, we played a couple of golf courses up there, and we actually watched the opening ceremony at Pine Valley, of all places, so that was quite neat. And I must say my hair was standing on end for about 20 minutes, you know. It's just an amazing spectacle down there, the biggest sporting event in the world, and we're hosting it. And at least we drew the first game. We always thought we were going to lose against Mexico, so it was a great tie.
And just watching every game I can, you know, it's just wonderful. And hopefully I can get down there, maybe for the quarter final or semifinal.
We've got quite a few players in the field, South African players in the field, and a lot of them are playing really well. I think at least one of us can do well this week.

Q. You mentioned some of the seaside holes, I guess 6, 8, 9, 10, right in through that stretch, they've changed the fairway lines and basically just shifted the entire fairway right over to the edge of the cliff. Did you have a look over the edge? Are we, for maybe the first time in a long time, going to see a guy possibly playing out of the sand down there?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. It depends on the wind. If the wind is into us on those holes, I guess it's coming from the southwest, you're going to see a lot of fun and games, because they've lengthened those holes, as well.
The 9th is 40 yards and I think the 10th is good 50 yards longer. I actually hit one on to the beach the other day on the 10th hole. If you just leak it there, there's no way -- you know, the cliff comes into the fairway a little bit and from the tee you might think you can fly it over that side, but you can't, or I can't.
I hit my ball into the ocean or on to the beach. I think I could have got down there. I don't know if I would have come back up, I think you might need a rope or something coming up. But I think it will be interesting.
And No. 4, also, that's a short little hole, but if the wind is into you or if you leak it, there's no stopping the ball, it's going over the cliff. It could be quite interesting this week.

Q. In '92 Gil Morgan got up to 10-under, and in 2000 Tiger Woods got up to 12-under, but the rest of the field was at 3-over. How do you see this tournament playing this week? Is it closer to even par or is it where the leaders can get up there closer to double digits?
ERNIE ELS: As I say, I'm trying -- I thought the greens were a little softer in 2000. The greens now are very firm. And they're obviously not going to get any softer.
So depending on the weather we get, we have two days where -- the wind didn't blow much in 2000. And obviously Tiger, you know, he was out of this world that week. Or one of the weeks he was out of the world, one of many.
We finished what was -- we were 2- or 3-over, myself and Miguel, and I think 12-under was winning. I probably could have, if I made all the putts I could and if I played to my real potential, I probably could have gotten to 5-under, but not 15. I wouldn't want to say 15 is on the cards this week.
I think if the weather is half decent, I think someone can shoot under par. And if we have very bad weather, over par will win.

Q. A couple of questions, what was that like, for the rest of the field in 2000?
ERNIE ELS: Well, it's ten years ago, so it's hard to remember that long ago for me. I had one good run that week, and that was the Saturday. I just made the cut and then went out in the morning and I shot 67, whatever it was, and found myself in the last group.
And that Saturday afternoon was very tough. Guys had a really difficult time getting their score in the clubhouse. There weren't too many scores -- or any under par, other than mine. And I found myself ten behind or something like that going into the final round.
I played a pretty good round. I think I shot 1-over that final day. I was never really in the ballgame, as I said, back then. It's tough to think you've got a chance, ten behind. I still had a bit of hope. I thought if I could get off to a pretty good start, maybe 2- or 3-under through the first five, maybe something crazy could happen. But Tiger was way too solid.

Q. The other question is when you won two in four years early in your career, how many U.S. Opens did you kind of envision, maybe, for yourself at that point?
ERNIE ELS: Well, quite a few, I would say, after that. Obviously Oakmont was great and Congressional was good. If we could have played those two venues a bit more often, maybe I could have had a better chance.
But we went to Olympic, I didn't have a good time there. And Pinehurst, didn't have a good time there either. And then 2000 came here, and finished second, although I was never really in the ballgame. And I haven't really done too much since then. I might have had a couple of top-10's or top-5's since then, but not really something really spectacular.
But, yeah, I mean, you know, I had a great start to my Major campaign. And as I say, I've won two, won another Open Championship, but I haven't really capitalized on the chances I've had.

Q. There are a few holes, notably 6 and 15, they've shaved the fairway into the hazard. Marvelous look esthetically, how does that affect the player?
ERNIE ELS: You just got in. Okay, I'll go through it again. I think, as I said, the fairways are running really firm this year, they're running quick. And if you get a breeze that's quite stiff it's going to affect the golf ball a lot.
And I think, you know, the real issues will be on No. 9 and 10, also No. 6, the par-5. If you leak it anywhere to the right there, with the ball bouncing the way it is on the fairways, the hazard, which is the Pacific Ocean, will come into play quite a bit this week. So it could get quite interesting.

Q. Briefly switching back to the World Cup soccer, you mentioned you were pleasantly surprised with South Africa's draw against Mexico in the opener. Based on the home support they're getting, how do you rate their chances on getting through in their group?
ERNIE ELS: Well, the home support is unbelievable. If you think about the '95 World Cup rugby, we didn't have much of a chance, and I think the home support really pulled the Springboks through, and I think they could have a chance of qualifying to the next stages. Tying Mexico, which is one of the stronger teams in our group, and now they've probably try to get through France. If they can get a tie on France or get through with a win, we would have a chance of qualifying. That would almost be like a miracle for us down there.
But we have great supporters. I've seen the stadiums when they were built and every stadium so far has been really packed. And with all the noise going on there, I think it's a real great atmosphere for the players down there. And I think our team has a great chance now.

Q. Can you just talk about generally the challenge that a U.S. Open and the USGA setup presents to you as a player, and is that something you have to do any extra preparation for coming into a U.S. Open event?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think it's a great challenge, year-in and year-out, wherever they go. Each and every venue the USGA goes to, west coast, east coast, they just give you the ultimate challenge, whether it's driving the ball in the narrow fairways, challenging your mental ability to cope with stuff that's going to happen out there, the firmness of the greens, the quickness of the greens, there's just no other test like it.
The elements, that might play a factor, like we have this week, might play a bit more almost like Open Championship golf in Scotland or somewhere. It just challenges your whole game. And I really look forward to that most of the time, you know, sometimes you come into a week where your game is not quite on, and you might have a bit of a tough week; and when your game is on, this is a great challenge for guys playing well. And those kind of players really look forward to a very tough week, where players with not a lot of game coming into this week might have a tough time. So it's quite a challenge.

Q. Do you feel your game is hot at the moment? Secondly, somebody who has won recently from South Africa, Tim Clark, how do you see his game?
ERNIE ELS: My own game, I've had a really good start of the year, and the last month or so I've been a bit off. I've really worked hard on the aspects of my game that hasn't been on, and it's been my short game. Obviously you need a bit of short game around here.
And I started feeling it, feeling the ball off the putter a little bit. The greens are small, so if you miss greens you've got to get the ball up and down, so I've been really working hard on that aspect.
I'm hitting the ball quite nicely. So I need a bit of a boost this week, and I'd love to play well here.
Your second bit, I think Tim Clark's one of the favorites this week. I think the course is not all that long. Tim grew up in Durban, South Africa, where the wind can blow, so he knows how to play in wind. And he's one of the better drivers and iron players on Tour. And that's what you're going to have to do here this week. And he showed us he can really putt under pressure with that long stick. I think he's really proven himself and he's got a great chance.

Q. Speaking of favorites, your pairing in particular has three guys who would have to be considered among the favorites. I'm wondering if there's an advantage of playing in such a pairing. Obviously a lot of focus on Tiger still, but just in general playing with two other guys who are going to be considered among the favorites. Is there some kind of advantage in that?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it will be interesting. It's a big pairing, obviously, a lot of attention will be on the pairing and especially with Lee winning last week, and really one of the hottest players in the world the last two years, he's won everywhere.
Obviously Tiger coming back, ten years after that unbelievable win. So we'll have a lot of people watching us and a lot of attention.
I think if you ask the other two, all we can do is really concentrate on our own games and take care of our own business. But it will be nice playing with Tiger again, I haven't played with him for a while. And obviously Lee is a good friend of mine, I played with him, a lot of golf. And hopefully we can help each other along.
I think if we get a bit of momentum going in the group as a whole, I think it could really pull along others in the group. So, yeah, we'll be watching each other. But as I say, you can only take care of your game and hopefully we can have two good days and be in contention by Saturday.

Q. Can you talk a little bit more about what Tiger did here ten years ago? Is that sort of a tone setter for the rest of the decade?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I remember playing at the Disney tournament in '99, that tournament normally is played in October. I played with Tiger there and I remember -- I only lost by a shot to him there. He beat me on the final green or something. But there I could see that this guy was playing a different game.
And then obviously coming into the 2000 season, I think we had that little duel down in Hawaii and he was quite a hot stick then. He was swinging unbelievably and putting unbelievably. I guess coming to Pebble he was really looking forward to it and he showed it. He was really on his game.
That was really a wake up call for a lot of guys. A lot of guys started changing their game a lot. And a lot of guys took their physical fitness to another level. And ten years later here we are. And we've got a lot of strong, physical, athletic guys out here on Tour. I think it's really brought the game a long way from that tournament.

Q. The noise makers that your countrymen employ at the World Cup, would you like to see them employed at the U.S. Open?
ERNIE ELS: I think it would be cool.

Q. And the other thing, would that be to your advantage?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think it would be difficult not to blow that thing on your backswing, you know, it would be difficult playing with it in any case.
I don't think that will go down really well here with the USGA, I don't think the USGA will allow it on the tournament grounds. Maybe practice rounds, that would give a bit of more spirit to things. Those things are really loud, though.

Q. Kind of a psychology question, Mickelson finished 2nd in this thing five times, so you're always playing these games within games within your head, you know, you're trying to convince yourself that that's good, that you put yourself in position, I guess, that many times. What are the pros and cons of being close but not quite all that often? You finished second your fair share over the years in events, too. I can imagine it's -- use your old analogy, you got one guy on this shoulder, one guy on this shoulder in an argument.
ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, if you look at all the second places, I think he's only really lost it the one time. I think that was Winged Foot, probably. Maybe he doesn't feel that good about that one. But the rest of them, and I think other guys beat him.
I played with Retief Goosen at Shinnecock and Retief made all those up and downs, unbelievable up and downs the final day and basically Phil got beaten. He didn't do anything wrong.
The same with Bethpage the last two times we were there, he had chances there. But I don't think he beat himself. I think the Winged Foot one maybe.
So I think you can take a lot of positives. There's not too many guys that finished second five times. You don't want to hear that too many times, but that's a feat in itself.
I think he's in his home state this week, and he's won here before, he's got good feelings, and he's got the best short game in the game. So you're going to need it around here this week. I think he's got a great chance and I think, you talk about the home course, the home advantage, you know, I think he's one of the guys with that advantage.
BETH MURRISON: Ernie, thank you so much for joining us today. We wish you well this week.

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