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March 17, 1999

Ernie Els


LEE PATTERSON: Thank you, sir, for spending some time with us. Maybe just a couple thoughts as we are heading into the week; then we will answer questions.

ERNIE ELS: Well, just happy to be here. Weather is good I am staying at home this week, so, pretty nice. I picked up my parents on yesterday morning. They flew in from South Africa for a couple of weeks. Nice to see them again. And I worked on my game a little bit yesterday and this morning with Robert and my putting last week wasn't up to scratch and I didn't really play very well, but I am looking forward to this week. It is always nice to play in Arnold's tournament. Golf course is in great shape again. Just looking forward to it, really. Hopefully I can get off to a pretty decent start tomorrow and see how it goes. I am enjoying it. I have got a big week next week at TPC, so these two weeks coming up are quite important and then I got a week off before The Masters. So I am looking forward to it.

Q. What makes these two weeks important - I don't mean the obvious - is it important to start getting your game in better, better shape for Augusta?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, you know, I don't want to think about The Masters until I really get there. We got a big week this week. We got most of the best players playing here. Next week is obviously, we call it, the fifth major. It is a big money event. I mean, really next week is probably the best field you will find throughout the year, so, I don't think you can really take it as a warm-up anymore leading into the Masters like some of the guys might have done in the past. I have tried to really just get myself in good shape, and I really -- not really go as hard. You can't do that anymore. Guys are too good out there. I think you waste your own time to come out here and just work on your game instead of really giving it a big shot. So, as I say, my game is okay, and if I can get some putts going in I am going to try and have a good week.

Q. How much of a test of your game is this course? Obviously you did well here last year, but this is a pretty challenging course.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it is probably the toughest one we play in the Florida swing. It is a long course. It has normally got rough. The greens are very well bunkered. They have got some of the toughest par 4s on this golf course we play all year-round. So, it is a really good test. It is probably better for longer hitters because you can probably reach some of the par 5s, some of the longer hitters and par 4s, they have got some really strong par 4s out there, like 9, 11, No. 1 is a strong hole so, you are going in with 5-irons into a lot of these -- and 4-, 3-irons on these par 4s, so it is a really good test.

Q. Do you get a sense that this tournament has -- maybe gets people thinking more about The Masters just because of the number of Europeans that are here this week that maybe used to come for Doral?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, maybe. Some of the guys played the world -- most of them played the World Championship events. I think some of them went back. I saw Monte out there last week at the Honda. I saw Lee Westwood is here. Clark is here. Bernhard normally plays the Florida swing. Seve is here, so, quite a few of the Europeans guys have come. This is probably the run-up for The Masters now. I mean, they can't afford to lose many tournaments on their Tour because they have got to finish in the top 20 to get into a lot of these major events and money events, I mean, the World Championship events. They probably got to play over there a lot too now.

Q. In general, what has been your history as a defending champion, come back and play the tournament the next year, -- how does that -- is it a confidence boost? Is it a distraction, you know, how does it affect your mindset to be the defending champion?

ERNIE ELS: I think it is -- it is probably more of a distraction, really. I try and go out there -- my record is pretty good defending. I have played pretty well defending tournaments before and -- but, you know, you want to come in and I try and just enjoy the week, really. The odds to win again is, you know, it is all going against you, so, if you come out there, I am going to tell you I am going to win again, I am talking a bunch of rubbish. I want to go in there, I want to enjoy. I want to have some good vibes from last year. It was a real special week last year playing 36 and the final day, all that, so, you can only try and do your best. I mean, I don't want anyone -- I don't even want to think about last year too much. I want to come out there and play. You go to these dinners, and speak to you every press guy about last year, it is more after distraction that way.

Q. Tell us about last year, Ernie.

ERNIE ELS: (laughs)

Q. No, I mean, really, the fact that you were playing against two of the really top players kind of a head-to-head thing for 36 holes, didn't turn out that way, but that is the way it shaped up. So when you look back over your other victories, is this a little more special just because of the way it happened?

ERNIE ELS: I think it will be unfair if I say that yes, it was more special, because I mean, I have had some good wins, you know, the one in L.A. was kind of special, I mean, the U.S. Opens were great, but yeah, I mean, last year that time, I mean, Tiger was No. 1, Davis was, I think, No. 2 and I was kind of in the Top-10, so, and struggling with my game a little bit because I missed -- I wasn't kind of looking forward to it too much because I mean, my confidence was a little bit low and playing 36 holes with these type of guys -- and, I mean, if they have a good day that could have happened me. But it turned out that I played a great third round and I won the tournament that way. I went into the last round the afternoon with about a 4-shot lead.

Q. The front 9, wasn't it, the third round?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, we started on the 10th hole. I birdied the 10th hole. I think I made a turn in 2- or 3-under -- 2-under, I think. Really played a really good on the front 9, shot 31, 65, I think Tiger 73 and Davis was 74. So I think that was the round that won me the tournament. When you have played so well in the morning to kind of keep it going in the afternoon wasn't too hard to do. But, you know --

Q. Better --

ERNIE ELS: I played kind of safe in the afternoon.

Q. Because you had the big lead by then?


Q. Do you think right now there maybe six, seven or eight young guys that could really become the leadership core in the next year or two?

ERNIE ELS: No, I think you have got a trend already. I think you have got a Tiger, I mean, he is going to be there for a very long time. David Duval, obviously with his record now, I think those are the two top guns right now in the game. You got Justin Leonard, he is very consistent. I think he can be in that group. If you are talking about a group of six guys, I think you have already got six leading players in the world that are young enough to carry it on for a couple of years. Like I said before, I think the only way you prove yourself in that kind of company is to win majors, or to be in contention in majors, year in, year out. I would say Davis Love, Justin, Tiger, David, myself, probably; I think you got a guy like Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, Colin hasn't really proved himself in majors, well, winning majors, but he has been in contention, so, maybe I shouldn't be that hard on him. But you have got probably 6 to 8 guys at the moment.

Q. Right now would you think there is a decent chance Sunday's winner will come out of the names you have mentioned?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I think so. I mean, those type of guys, I mean, they are playing well just about every week; especially Tiger, he has had two weeks off so he is feeling fresh again and you know, David also has had two weeks off. Just -- these guys will be in there, the depth of the Tour is also so good, I mean, the last couple of weeks you have had guys -- you guys probably haven't heard of, almost leading tournaments, almost winning tournaments, so, you can get a surprise also. I am covering all the bases now, aren't I? (laughter).

Q. Going back to that first time you played Bay Hill, you stayed in that motel over there on I4?

ERNIE ELS: Raddison.

Q. What do you remember from that week when you look back to that week, what sticks out?

ERNIE ELS: Well, the weather sucked; absolutely sucked that week. It was like 50 degrees, 50 to 55, I played -- the highlight of my week was obviously playing with Arnold. But then again Arnold made the cut and I missed the cut.

Q. He made the cut?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. He hit two drivers into 18. I mean, it was raining, blowing, it was horrible. I think -- I missed the cut by one shot, but it was just a great thrill to play with Arnold again. I played with him that previous summer in the PGA in 1992 and he actually invited me then to come and play his tournament. Always a great thrill to come here and then to play with him, but you know, before last year I was -- I never really did well here. I really -- I missed quite a few cuts here. When I didn't make the cut I finished in the middle of the field, oh, last part of the field. Until last year, so I guess I have kind of found my knack to play the golf course now. That was a good week, man, that was in 1993. That is when I met you.

Q. Everybody is talking about how good the golf course is here this week. Rough is a little shorter. Do you see the scores any lower than the 14-under you shot last year?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, if the weather stays the same, probably almost the same kind of score I think, 14 to 16, if the weather stays the same. The golf course is playing a lot longer than last year. They have overseeded the fairways this year and they are a little bit softer and you are going to go in with at least an extra club into most of these holes this week. That really puts the longer hitters at an advantage like Tiger and I think I really think he is going to have a good week, so, and the greens are perfect. I mean, every year we come here to Bay Hill the greens are just beautiful and they are running perfect again. They are a little bit firm, so you have got to hit good shots to still make birdies. But if the weather stays the same probably the same score as last year.

Q. Last year when you won you talked about Sunday about the modern, 6 or 8 players that you mentioned -- about the modern game guys that can hit it a long way and really attack the course. Do you see that trend continuing? Is there going to be any position-management-type players or is that really the way things are going to go?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. In the past you had guys like Nick Faldo, I mentioned Nick Faldo he just played an absolute controlled game. He never hit his driver very far. But he was always in play. He was a great iron player. Nowadays you got guys hitting it as straight as Nick did in his A day but they are hitting it 50 to 80 yards further. I mean, you got David Duval, he is No. 1 on the driving stats, which means he hits it a long way and he hits a lot of fairways. That is just the way they are playing the game these days. Guys are hitting it -- averaging at 290, 285 and hitting it on the fairways so you can go at the par 5s in two and these guys are hitting their irons well. I mean, you are going to hit a 7-iron a lot straighter than you are going to hit a 4-iron.

Q. Is that skill --

ERNIE ELS: I think -- that is just the way the game has changed. The way Nick Faldo played Augusta was a controlled game and the way Tiger played Augusta he was hitting 7-irons into these par 5s. You are going to see guys like Kuehne, these youngsters coming through Sergio Garcia, these guys are playing the modern game and so will we now, so the game has changed.

Q. You were talking about measuring of all the young players and ultimately you measure yourself in how you do at the majors. Is it still possible for rivalries to develop if they go head-to-head at a Majors if they do -- like Watson and Nicklaus -- I mean, you remember them from Turnberry or from The Masters, is that --

ERNIE ELS: That doesn't really happen yet with our group of players.

Q. Is that how it would happen though, do you think?

ERNIE ELS: I think eventually, yeah. It will be great if you get a guy like David and Tiger playing well, both of them playing well at Augusta, you know, that should be one helluva kind of a shootout thing because they kind of hit the ball the same way, the same distance and that would be kind of exciting. But it would be nice if all these mentioned players can kind of get together and play well in a major. I mean, you will remember that for a long time.

Q. Is it kind of surprising it hasn't happened yet since you came on in 1994 and Nicklaus was kind of around there and Justin and David but you guys have never gone head-to-head in a major yet, anyone of you guys.

ERNIE ELS: You know, it is funny, you forget about Colin Montgomerie, I mean --

Q. He is old.

ERNIE ELS: (laughs). He has been in contention. Yeah, right, he is 35, he is over-the-hill. (laughs) I have had a better rivalry with him than with any of the other guys. I mean, 1994 I beat him in the final of World Match Play, we had that thing at Oakmont, you know, 1995 at PGA Riviera, he was right there, I was right there. 1997 again, so, you know, we forget about Colin, but I mean, that is -- to talk about a kind of a rivalry was more with Colin that -- than I have had with Tiger or David or whatever. Last year I didn't even shape in the majors, so, I can blame myself there, but I think it will happen. We have got a lot of golf left in front of us. Tiger is 22, 23. David is 27. I am 29. I mean, we have got a pretty good decade or more in front of us. So, in ten years to come I think we should have a couple of majors where we are going to be head-to-head.

Q. Curious. Have you talked to Fred last couple of weeks?

ERNIE ELS: No. No, I haven't -- I just, I spoke to his agent last week. So hopefully he will be back soon.

End of FastScripts....

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