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July 13, 2010

Ernie Els


BERNIE McGUIRE: Ernie, thanks for joining us here in the media centre. This is your fourth Open at St. Andrews. Perhaps you could just tell us what it's like being back, and we'll take some questions.
ERNIE ELS: Third Open here. Thanks, Bernie, it's great to be back. It's great when we have weather like this. I went out very early this morning, played my 18. The course is in great shape.
But to come back to your question, yeah, three Opens here now. This is my fourth, actually, you're right.

BERNIE McGUIRE: Thank you.
ERNIE ELS: This is my fourth, I'm sorry.

BERNIE McGUIRE: Your apology is accepted.
ERNIE ELS: In any case, yeah, I've played the course so many times now. I came here for the first time in '87 as a 17-year-old and played in the Links Trust Trophy I think it was. I remember also playing and winning that tournament. I just fell in love with the place. I didn't know where to go, but I loved it.
So yeah, I've played it many times, so I've seen it in different shapes and forms and obviously different conditions. You've just got to take what you get on the day and try and adapt to that.

Q. How pleasant is it that you can just go out there this week and play and not worry about people asking you about the changes to the course?
ERNIE ELS: I can't imagine if you changed this course.

Q. They changed 17.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, they did. I think it's a good change.
No, it's nice. I'm obviously not the big story here this week, but I feel I'm playing okay even though I missed the damned cut last week. I feel like I've got a good chance this week. I've got a lot of experience, and I think it'll help me. You've just got to try and stay patient and hopefully make putts. You know, you can make a lot of putts on these greens. They're in great shape. But you've just got to play and keep your head down and go. Hopefully I can do that.

Q. You really seemed to have it going at the start of the year. Has it been more frustrating, the fact that you perhaps didn't follow up there, or is this the sort of week that might help you kick on again?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. You know, I obviously played really good at the start of the year. My schedule, you know, I wasn't happy with my schedule. After the U.S. Open Championship I went to Germany. I had a lot of excuses there with jet lag and everything, but I wasn't quite enjoying it. And for some reason that last week, the second round, it wasn't that easy.
I guess I've just been looking forward to this week since the U.S. Open Championship, and now that I'm here, you know, I'm preparing well. Physically I feel really good. I'm hitting my driver good. So I feel my game is quite -- is really there, you know, it's just for me to really concentrate and be 100 per cent focused on what I'm going to do this week. So I feel I can do that.
But yeah, I've had a pretty good start. I'm still somehow leading the FedEx points list over there in the U.S., and I think I'm second on the Money List over here in Europe. Some really big tournaments coming up. I've got seven events in, I think, the next nine weeks, which is very, very important. So I know the importance of that, and I want to be ready.
I like my schedule a little bit better now than it maybe has been the last month or two.

Q. There's probably been a dozen or so players in the last 50 years who have won multiple majors. Do you think those who have won, whose list of majors include links golf, are looked at differently than those who haven't won an Open? Kind of a grass-clay thing in tennis analogy, if you will.
ERNIE ELS: Good question. I had a similar question a couple weeks ago. I just feel if you want to be a world-class player, I think you've got to do something on links golf. I mean, this is where the game started. This is the original way the game was played. Whether you like it or not, I think you need to be able to somehow master links golf somewhere in your career, and I think -- you know, I look to links golf very naturally somehow. I don't know why, because I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the closest thing to a links golf course is the M3 highway (laughter.) We didn't know anything about links golf. It was just basically American-style golf.
And when I came over here for some reason, maybe just watching it on television, I had a feeling of how to play links golf. The first time I felt hitting a ball off this kind of turf was just amazing, and I still love it.
Yeah, I think you've got something there. I think it's a different way of playing, but I think your imagination can really go on these type of golf courses.

Q. On that subject of links golf, can you talk about the firmness of the course compared to past Opens here. And could you also talk about the second shot on the Road Hole? The R & A said they were hoping to reestablish the Road's presence, and I'm wondering if you feel like that's occurred with the new tee?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I played here on Sunday, and I was going to play 18 holes, but the wind was blowing so -- it was so heavy that, I mean, the balls were moving on the greens. I played four holes out and four holes back on Sunday, and they must have had a lot of rain because it was really soft. You could actually see ball marks on the greens. The ball really wasn't very fiery.
But since then we had that big wind Sunday, it didn't rain much yesterday, today, played this morning and it's really starting to run out. But as I said before, this is the best I've seen these greens in all the times I've come here. The course is in great shape.
It depends on what the weather throws at us tomorrow. I think it's going to rain so it might soften things up a bit, but even with that the ball will still release.
And I think 17 is a great change. There was a little breeze into us yesterday after. I hit driver and a 4-iron and I was luckily on the green. Today, this morning, I hit a driver, 5-iron, and I'm just keeping my second shot really low and just running the ball into that green. And I think they've absolutely got it spot-on. I think you've got to hit a driver off the tee now, off the back. You've got to slide it left to right like we used to before the equipment changes, and your second shot, the Road Hole, the Road comes into play now, so it's all good.
I remember when Tom Watson was going for his -- I think his sixth win in '84, and he went for his shot, and I think he hit a 2-iron and hit it onto the road and Seve made his putt. And I think they want to bring that back.

Q. With all the younger players coming through, you're spending so much time in the gym. Is it important for you to keep working with the likes of Josh and really keep yourself up there with them?
ERNIE ELS: Hey, I'm just trying to keep the beer belly away, that's all. (Laughter.)
I'm doing my thing a little bit. I'm not going to be running a triathlon any day soon, but I'm trying to keep myself in fairly good shape. As long as I can tilt my shoulders, I can play the game, so that's what I'm trying to do.

Q. You mentioned as a 17-year-old you came here and you didn't know where to go, but you loved the place anyway. A couple of decades later, can a player of your stature still be surprised out here, or do you figure you kind of know the ropes now?
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely, you can be. I know exactly where the bunkers are and all that stuff, but still, you know, golf is golf. You're not ever going to be perfect. Even today, I hit it into No. 12, into a bunker there, that I thought I wasn't going to get to. The golf course, it just throws surprises at you all the time. I mean, the flag positions, we're trying to get where they're going to put the flags, and some flag positions just changes the hole so dramatically, it's crazy. Some of the very little short par-4s where you can almost drive the green, if they put a flag in a certain position, you can be 15, 20 yards away and you might not get the ball up and down for birdie. It's just an amazing golf course.
As an architect you want to come here and play this course and see everything that they've done here, and you can incorporate it into almost any golf course you build anywhere. It's got some great stuff.
Q. I want to ignore the facts here, but Tiger's form is somewhat unpredictable and Phil's is pretty much always that way. Do you think this might be your best chance ever to win the Money List on both sides? And does that motivate you at all?
ERNIE ELS: I think that will all come later in the year. But right now I feel I've got a chance to win this tournament. You know, even with Tiger playing well and Phil playing well, I think I still have a decent chance of playing well here this week and maybe having a chance. If I can get into position like I was at the U.S. Open Championship, I'd like to finish it off for a change.
I've got to apologize to you guys. You know, after that Sunday I was pretty hot under the collar, and I know some of the guys wanted to talk to me, but I got out of there. I was pretty annoyed with myself.
But yeah, I'd love to have a chance here and try and win this tournament, and if I play well this week, the money thing will take care of itself, and then I can start focusing on that if I have to later on in the year. But now I just want to focus on this.
Q. Obviously Tiger has won the last two Opens here. Is it a matter of the fact that he just played better than everyone else those weeks, or does he hold some kind of specific advantage here on the Old Course?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I mean, in 2000, what Tiger did in 2000 and 2001, he was just really unbeatable. I played quite a decent event that year in 2000 -- again, I don't know how many shots I was behind him. 2005 I didn't play that well here, but again, he beat the guys down the back stretch. I think he'll be a factor because of the width you have here. You've got room to play with. He knows how to play the course, obviously. And he knows the greens very well.
When you've won tournaments on certain courses, you can putt those greens, and he can putt these greens here. So I think he's going to have a very good week. He'll be a factor. But I think because of the European Tour playing here every year, you're going to have a huge European presence here this week. The guys know the course like the back of their hands now. This place used to be a special place to come to every couple years for the Open. We play a tournament here every year now, so the guys know the course well, so you're going to have a big group of guys on Sunday with a chance to win, I think.

Q. You mentioned being disappointed at Pebble Beach. A lot of guys walked off that course pretty upset with what they did on Sunday. Can you talk about what you think happened from your perspective? And do you take anything positive out of it?
ERNIE ELS: I didn't feel too good that last day. I played such controlled golf, and you never want to make silly mistakes. I have so much experience that I know what not to do, and to hit that shot I did on 10 near the ocean there and making double there, I just couldn't forgive myself for that one. And then I bogeyed 11, made a really good birdie on 12, and then I had all those chances coming in. I didn't hit a good shot onto 14, my third shot, and made bogey there. I missed that short putt on 15. I thought I made the putt on 16, which stayed out, 17 and 18. There's so many.
And you're right, Phil did the same and Tiger probably the same, also. But I just felt very disappointed there because I had the perfect start, and I just had to keep alive, and I probably would have been at worst in a playoff. But I just self-destructed a little bit, and I was a little hot under the collar. Again, I apologize for not being able to talk to you there, but it was probably a better thing that I got out of there.

Q. You've done a great job representing South Africa around the world. Now that it's all over, I wonder what your take is on what the World Cup has done for your country.
ERNIE ELS: I think it was unbelievable. I was in the U.S. when the tournament started and ended up in Europe, and when it ended, obviously there must have been something negative down there, but nothing has been reported. I think just the spirit of the people down there, I know what they're like for big events. They get very excited about it, and I'm sure they were very excited.
I've just heard very positive things. I've obviously watched a lot of matches on television. I thought the stadiums looked incredible. I thought the whole tournament went very well. I just think some of the referees lost the plot. I think they've got to bring in that third umpire. But I think the tournament went very well.

Q. Are you playing so well and so confident and so experienced here that ultimately it may come down to the situation and how you control your excitement in the last hour or so on Sunday?
ERNIE ELS: I think so. I think so. I think there's going to be a lot of people with a chance. Depends on conditions, again. I'm hoping for a little bit of breeze. But you're right, I'm going to have to be in control, more in control, of my emotions, better than I was at Pebble, and somehow you've got to -- there's some great holes to finish with. No. 14, depending on conditions, could be one of the hardest holes on the course, although it's a par-5, because they moved that tee back a couple years ago. And then 17 is going to be a key hole, definitely. The rough is really thick on the left. If you hit it in there, you've just got to pitch it out. I tried to advance the ball this morning, and you've got to chance.
I think you're right, I think you're going to have to be in control of your emotions and hit the right shots at the right time. I think somebody will win it, but I think somebody might lose it, also.

Q. I'm sorry for asking another Tiger question, but you mentioned earlier on in about 2000, 2001, he was playing amazing golf. Did you ever go on a golf course thinking he was simply unbeatable? And do you still feel that same way now?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think there were times -- I was quite public about it and was a little bit criticized for that, but I just felt in that time period, quite a few times we came up against each other and he came out on top. I think the time he beat me in Hawai'i was quite a big win for him because I played good golf there, and he basically beat me with big putts. It could have maybe had an effect on me, but the way he played in that time period was amazing, the way he putted and the way he was in control of his ball-striking was just amazing.
Now, you know, things have changed a little bit. He's really working hard on his game. I played with him at Pebble the first two rounds and could see a lot of positive stuff that day. But I think the game has moved on a little bit. A lot of players have moved on a little bit. On his day he's still the best player in the world, but I think there's guys a little closer to him now.
Q. Not to paint you as an old man or anything like that, but getting back to Pebble, is part of your being upset, as you get older those chances start going away a little bit and you've got to seize them? Was that a little bit a part of when you walked away a little bit hot there?
ERNIE ELS: In a way, yes, but I've -- even though I haven't been on great form the last couple years, I've had Top 10s every year in majors, whether it was here at the Open, which I love, or in other tournaments. I've had chances to win, although they've been outside chances. I don't feel I'm running out of time rapidly; I just feel I was so in contention there, and you'd like to finish something off, and I want to win one. I haven't won one in eight years, and I've been so close so many times. You feel you just want to win one. I don't feel like I'm running out of time yet. I think I've still got at least five, six years. That's quite a few majors, another 24 or so.
I just felt a little -- just disappointed not finishing the job.
Q. Is the early wins this year more important to how you approach this week versus maybe what happened at Pebble because you got yourself in contention where you wanted to get yourself after three rounds? Which is the one that really propels you into this?
ERNIE ELS: I think the reason for, I think, Pebble, more likely -- although as I said, missed the cut in Germany and last week, but I feel still a progression out of Pebble into here. I've thought about it a long time now, and you have to try and take the positive out of it, and the positive is that I played a good tournament, did not putt very well, but still had a chance, and I feel I can do better here basically.
The wins at the start of the year gave me the platform, and now I feel from recent form I can push on and finish it off better.

Q. Would you like to comment on the special anniversary event of previous winners tomorrow celebrating the 150 years?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that's a great event. Last time they had it I wasn't in that field, so it's nice to be in there. I watched it last time on television. It's quite something.
I saw Arnold Palmer last night at dinner. He flew over yesterday, and some other great champions. Hopefully I can be in a group with Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, some of those guys, because I really looked up to them, especially Tom Weiskopf, because he's a tall guy and I love his swing. We're going to have a dinner tonight, a champions' dinner tonight, and have a little chat and play a bit of golf tomorrow. I think the crowds will love it, and I think it's quite cool. I think some of the other tournaments might maybe look at it and do the same maybe.

Q. Going on to that, how sad are you that Seve won't be with us tomorrow?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, Seve, again, one of my heros growing up. I remember so clearly that '84 win that he had here, making that putt on 18. He was just such a great champion. It would have been great to see him here. I know Ken Brown went down there to interview him, and we covered to fly him in here tomorrow, but I think his doctors told him not to do it. But it would have been unbelievable. I think he would have drawn another 20,000 people in here tomorrow if he would have come.
BERNIE McGUIRE: Ernie, thanks for joining us. We wish you every success tomorrow in your fourth St. Andrews Open.

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