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March 25, 1998

Ernie Els


LEE PATTERSON: Maybe an assessment of what you see out there and how you feel after Sunday night.

ERNIE ELS: I feel really good about it. I had a good celebration Sunday 'til about 11:30-ish the evening. And it settled in quite nicely. I know I am in a new week, new venue. It is probably a little bigger tournament also. We are playing THE PLAYERS Championship. Players and obviously the media really regard this as a very big tournament. The prize money really, you know, suggests that too. We are playing for a lot of money here. So, it is really a wonderful tournament and I am trying to get myself prepared as good as I can for this tournament. I had an 18-hole practice round yesterday and I didn't really practice too hard yesterday, but I think I want to get some in today and get ready for tomorrow.

Q. Are you going to play New Orleans?

ERNIE ELS: No, this is my last tournament before Augusta, so it is quite important for me to play well here. The greens really are running a lot faster than last week. I played a couple hours, as I say, yesterday and the greens were probably rolling at 10 and a half, 11, something like that. They are really quick. I spoke to the green keeper. He says he is not going to give the golf course too much water either. So we will have a tough week.

Q. Has this a course been played on enough to where you can typecast a particular player who would do well or a particular game that would do well on this course more than others?

ERNIE ELS: Well, this week I think it's going to be a little firmer. So you have got to look at guys that are really playing very well. There have been years in the past where the golf course, when it does play very soft and slow, you get very low scoring out there. Greg Norman won here with a 24-under par. And Lee Janzen won with 5- or 6-under. You have got to look at how the golf course plays, but I think this course-I read something that Bernhard Langer said last week, which actually is quite true-this course, in a way, resembles Augusta a little bit. It is not overly long. It is not as wide open as maybe Bay Hill last week where you can just take driver every hole. This is a course where you have got to maybe start positioning your ball off the tee to give yourself a good angling for your second shots because the greens here have quite a bit of slope. The greens aren't too big. So you want to come in with the right angle to some of these flags. So, to come back to your question, I would say guys that are really hitting the ball well, that have been playing well. I don't know if the golf course really suits a particular style of player. A guy like Tiger, he is not going to hit too many drivers on this golf course, except for the par 5s so he can go around with a 3-wood or 2-iron. A guy like maybe Bernhard or Corey Pavin they can use their drivers but they are more accurate. So, got to weigh it a little bit.

Q. Every Monday morning debates are started among golf fans about whether you or Tiger happens to be the best player in the world. Does that sort of debate concern you? Is that something you keep in the back of your mind who is the best in the world this week or this month?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I don't know. If I look at the record of myself and Tiger the last year or so I think Tiger has won quite a few more tournaments than I have. I have probably won more tournaments internationally than Tiger. But you know, he -- his record is awfully good. When he doesn't win, he is probably in the top 20 or top 10. So, for his age, and for the period of time he has been out there, he is awfully consistent. So, we all know Tiger is going to be there for a very long time. So, you know, I think Tiger, I mean, he should be regarded as the best player. But I am right up there and there is a lot of other players right up there. I think you can only judge a player of how good he is by his performances in big championships like Majors or this tournament, yeah. So, we are getting to the big tournaments now. So, you guys can start talking about it after maybe The Masters again.

Q. You have won internationally a lot but you are starting to win a -- you are winning Majors. How comfortable are you in the spotlight right now being one of the stars? Is that an easy place for you to be?

ERNIE ELS: It is not too bad for me. We haven't got a very full auditorium here today, so.... (Audience laughter.) I am not so very much in the spotlight as some other players, so, I am pretty comfortable with it. I have been around quite a few years now. This is my fifth year on Tour here. It has been four years since I have won my first major, so, I am pretty comfortable with you guys and maybe the media. So, you know, as long as it stays this way, I am comfortable. I don't think -- I don't think I am over the -- people look for the best youngest players, I am 28 now and I have won two Majors so it feels like I belong here and I have been around for a while, so I am comfortable.

Q. Peter Thomson was in here just now talking about watching last Sunday and he described himself as having a smile from ear to ear in watching you and Tiger. He thought that what happened on Sunday was very significant. How important was it for you?

ERNIE ELS: It was important for me -- he caught up 8 shots in the last day, 11 shots in two days. It is always probably always going to be kind of tough when we get together head-to-head. There is got to be a loser somewhere and, you know, it is not always nice to keep on losing or finishing 2nd all the time. It is always nicer to win. Yeah, I think it was quite important, playing 36 holes with Davis and Tiger - musn't forget Davis, he is one of the best players in the world also. So, to come out as a winner in that group against that field is always important for you, for yourself; Your self-esteem and confidence and everything. So, it was nice.

Q. You are a dedicated Taylor Made guy, I know, but words were after of you being out-driven a couple of times that Sunday even though you kicked them both. That you asked to hit a Titleist driver to see what it was like?

ERNIE ELS: I haven't hit -- I see quite a few guys on the Tour hitting Titelist drivers and they are a lot longer than they used to be. I have spoken to the guys at Taylor Made; they got me 10 drivers available today to hit, so somewhere I have got to find my 25 yards again.

Q. It is two-sided please, if you don't mind, have you noticed or can you tell me how your game has changed, if at all, since you have won your first major and from that perspective, can you tell me have you noticed any change in Tiger's game since last year merging those two together?

ERNIE ELS: My game has changed a little bit from that first major. I was a lot looser. I might have hit the ball a little longer then than I hit it now. Not that I want to hit it shorter now, but, yeah, my game has really matured a lot more since then. I think it is just because I am maybe a little bit older, maybe a little bit more mature or whatever you want to call it since then. I have learned a lot from my game; playing overseas and playing over here, so, I think I need -- time really helps you out in that way where you play a lot of tournaments, play a lot of major championships and you are not always going to have your rhythm and your timing perfectly so you have got to manage your game a lot better. And, I think I am probably doing that a lot better than in 1994. Tiger Woods, I played with him in 1995 at the U.S. Open. He was still an amateur then and I said it then, you know, I will say it again, I didn't really know what all the fuss was all about because the guy was still really a lot amateur. He was really hitting the ball obviously very long, but just felt like he didn't have a lot of control. And, I really did eat my words when he turned pro. He was just a total different player. He just looked differently, even the way he walked on the golf course, just -- I don't know what happened with him, but he was a professional and then what, two years later now he is the best player in the world and he has been ranked No. 1 for a couple of months. So, he is obviously gone a very, very long way and he is only 22, so, he is probably going to get better too.

Q. Anything significantly different about his game now?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, he is a lot more in control. His short game is so much better. One of the things at Shinnecock that struck me a little bit, he didn't have much of a short game at all. Out there on Tour and in major championships we play on greens so much quicker than when you play, say, your local country club, and I don't think he adapted the short game very well then. And, on Sunday, especially playing with him again, his short game is probably one of the best. He has got one of the best short games on Tour, I would say. When you start seeing that in a man's game and by the length he is hitting it, you might be in trouble in the future. So, when his game does come around again, and he is firing on all cylinders, he will be almost unbeatable then.

Q. When you say your own game has matured more, could you tell me what do you mean by that, how has it matured?

ERNIE ELS: Well, as I say, I am probably managing my game better. I am not going off after everything so much anymore. Maybe in the past like 18 at Bay Hill I would have gone at the flag. On 17 with the 2-iron I would have probably gone at the flag when I didn't really need it. As I say, when your timing is not in, you are not going to hit the ball the way you want to and you have got to find the way of playing 18 holes that day and trying to play it under par and maybe using your head a little bit more. Things like that.

Q. The Tour has spent 25 years in trying to build this tournament up to a certain level. And with the four World Golf Championship events or three of them coming in next year, do you think those events will start competing with this or will this be always on a certain level in the players minds?

ERNIE ELS: No, I think those world golf tournaments has got a lot to -- got a long way to go to get to this tournament. This is really one the players really regard as the tournament on Tour. Some of the players that play in this championship don't play in major championships this year. They might only play in one or so, and you know, those players really regard this as their major. Certainly, for me, this is our fifth major. And other people have been saying this for such a long time, but this is truly the tournament to play in during the year. You win this tournament, you get a lot of respect from everybody because this is probably the strongest field in golf. Maybe the British Open has got the next or maybe as strong a field. But, this is really some good players playing here and on a golf course that was built for us, you know, by Deane Beman and his team. I think he has done an unbelievable job here. The golf course I really look after it -- I mean, everything here is for the players. If you walk into the locker room there, I can live in that clubhouse. Everything is here for us and you can't really say anything negative about this tournament. So, those other tournaments we are going to be playing for, we are going to be playing for a lot of money. I am not sure what the purses are going to be like, but this can't be a lot more than this one. So I think it's got a way to go before they get to this one, if they do.

Q. The three Majors you haven't won, which one do you want most?

ERNIE ELS: Any one. First one The Masters, I have always really wanted to win that tournament probably like anybody else. And the British Open and the Masters are the two at the moment for me. But, I mean, any one really.

Q. You brought up the World Tour. What would a perfect World Tour be for you?

ERNIE ELS: Probably the Tour I am playing right now. I am pretty much playing a World Tour of my own right now. I play 10 or 11 in around the world and about 18 or 19 in this country, so I play about 30 tournaments, the bulk of it around the world. But, you know, I think this World Tour coming now, I think I would love for the World Tour to go to South Africa; maybe one or two in South Africa. Obviously they have got to take this World Tour around the world. They can't call it the World Tour and play the bulk of it in America. That won't work, I don't think. So, I think if you want to play a World Tour, play two in Japan, play three or four in Europe; maybe more, five in Europe, two in South Africa, two in Australia, you know, you have got to take it around. Play maybe five in America. So, that will take a lot of time. As I am playing now, I love the way I am travelling now. I play two months of the year I played around the world early on, play in the best weather possible and come over here for a nice tournament, so, I don't want to change my schedule too much at the moment.

Q. Will you go back overseas after Augusta?

ERNIE ELS: I am taking three weeks off playing the MCI then I am taking three weeks off. I will be back at the Byron Nelson and I will play the PGA in Europe.

Q. Last year at the Sprint you talked of your girlfriend giving some words of inspiration and some motivation. I wanted to know if you have had any of those conversations since Thailand or is this Bay Hill win all you -- is it something you said in yourself, hey, I know what to do; I don't need anybody else telling me where to go? Did you get some more words of encouragement?

ERNIE ELS: I think you always get words of encourage. It is never just you that wins. Obviously U.S. Open I was going into the U.S. Open, I was probably close to my lowest point in my career. At that point I missed four cuts playing very well and I really needed to get out after hole. My family stood right behind me. Leezil (phonetic) was right there. Got -- somehow came out of it. Golf is a game you have got to take the ups and the downs. Ups are so nice, but the downs are probably just as bad as the ups. So you have got to find a way of getting yourself out of it and of, you know, luckily for me, I have got really strong people behind me. I have got -- I don't know how many of you know Leezil but she is a pretty tough cookie at times and my parents, they are great. I have got people really good behind me. And, I think you need people close to you that can tell you something and you listen. You just don't need people that encourage you and put you on a pedestal all the type. You need people that can talk the truth to you and probably can hit home in some way. So, I have got those people, but she didn't have to talk to me too much at Bay Hill last week.

Q. Was Thailand a major downer, would you consider that as something to you -- with your performance on Sunday, was that something --

ERNIE ELS: That was a downer by the way I played, then obviously losing to Tiger in a playoff, I shot 74, 37 over the weekend and you know, I really should have been in it. On Saturday I dropped a couple of shots coming in and I really opened up the tournament then and I just didn't feel very comfortable with my game. Then losing to Tiger in a playoff like that, obviously it wasn't very nice.

Q. Bay Hill, a sweet revenge. Did you have any thoughts of, Now it is my chance to make it even or was it a separate tournament?

ERNIE ELS: No, no. I don't -- no. After the fact now you can talk about it or say whatever you want, but playing on Sunday, I wasn't thinking about that. I was just trying to play as good as I can and just be competitive out there. That is all I try to do. I had just really thought that Tiger and Davis were the danger men and them against me or me against them or whatever the case may be-I was thinking about playing as trying the best I could and whoever was going to win had to play good, obviously. I wasn't thinking I have got to get him back now something like that.

Q. Obviously every golfer would prefer to have a huge huge lead going into the final holes they could be -- maybe relax and enjoy the final moments of a win. But do you relish also those occasions where you are going up against other big names like Tiger and it is a dramatic finish, are those moments something that you relish even as much as maybe, let us say, an easy win in a major?

ERNIE ELS: I don't think there is any easy wins. I think the hardest wins are the ones when you have got a big lead. Because you know you can't make a big number even if you make a bogey, another guy makes birdie; his confidence is getting up. So that is a little tough. But, you don't play against the other guy, not until maybe the last 9 in a major or so. You want to play the course. You have got your own game plan. If you can stick to your own game plan, in your own mind, you think that is good enough and you can't control what the other guy thinks or what he does, so you have got to try and play your game and your game plan to your best of your ability, so, it is tough. Obviously when you come down to the last 9 if there is a shot or two, even if you are even, you start playing matchplay, you are starting to play the guy. But when you are starting a tournament you just have your own vision and go.

Q. Nicklaus was talking about physical conditioning and keeping your weight at a certain level. At 28 you probably don't have to worry about. But what do you do to keep in shape?

ERNIE ELS: We have a mutual friend, Jack and I. They have become pretty close. And Jack comes down to South Africa quite a bit now. He is doing a lot of golf courses down there and they get together quite often and Jack and he keeps telling Jack that I am, you know, I have get to start looking after myself and all this kind of stuff, so, they have got kind of a mind game going with me. I just remind Jack of the days when he was 28. (laughter). But, no, I feel I am in better shape. I am working -- I have been working out the last five or six months now and, you know, I was about 225 when I started working out. Now I am about 215, and, I am probably not going to go lower than that. I feel like I am in good shape now and I will just keep it there.

Q. What is working out?

ERNIE ELS: Cardio stuff and I do light weights and I do a lot of stretching. I have got a guy at Lake Nona. We work out for about hour and a half and I feel good about it afterwards.

Q. Hour and a half like three times a week or everyday?

ERNIE ELS: Everyday, tournament week, I take it quite easy just get on a bike or something, just get a bit of a sweat going; take it quite easy.

Q. Talk about Lee Westwood.

ERNIE ELS: I think Lee is a very talented player. He is only 24. I have read a couple of articles when they compared him and Tiger. I think that is a good comparison. I think he hits the ball closer to Tiger than I do. He hits hit fairly long. Obviously needs a bit of experience over here but he has already done very well. I think he is a player to watch in the future definitely. He loves the game. Got a good attitude. He is right up there. I think he has got what it takes.

LEE PATTERSON: Thank you, sir.

End of FastScripts....

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