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August 25, 1999

Ernie Els


JAMES CRAMER: Why don't we go ahead and get started this morning. We have Ernie Els with us this morning, making his 7th appearance here as Firestone Country Club. Ernie qualified for this tournament by virtue of his place on the 1998 International Team for the Presidents Cup. If you could get started with a comment about the strong nature of this international field this week.

ERNIE ELS: Obviously, it is the strongest field -- strongest 40 players you'll find in the world today. These guys have competed against each other at match play, you know, with some success for some teams. You know, we all gathered for a stroke-play event, and it's very nice to see the guys that have played on all these teams play stroke play together. And, you know, we've got some good friends, obviously from my Presidents Cup experiences. And although it's not a team event, it's nice to see all the guys gathered around in a stroke-play format. I think it's a great event. We played the World Series of Golf here for so many years, and that has always been a limited field. It's changed a little bit, you know, in that I think the field is stronger. You've got all these good players playing here. It's not a limited field. It's changed, but it hasn't really changed too much. And especially the golf course hadn't changed too much. It's a great golf course, probably the best condition I've ever seen it. So I'm looking forward to it. You're going to see some great golf here this week from a lot of very talented players.

Q. Yesterday's sessions we had here were like a referendum on the upcoming Ryder Cup, and if they sat there listening, it was like people forgot the U.S. also lost the Presidents Cups last time. Do you guys feel like maybe what happened there last December, November is kind of forgotten?

ERNIE ELS: I think a couple -- I haven't read too much about that. Everyone was talking about the Ryder Cup a couple years ago, but that was a pretty good beating we gave them in Australia. I think we beat them 20-12. This whole year, nobody has said anything about that. So maybe they want to forget about it.

Q. You know, sometimes athletes talk a bit of trash. You know, you did score a much more decisive victory pointswise than the Europeans did. Do you think that the International Team was better than the International Team in '97?

ERNIE ELS: For some reason, we played out every match. We had a pretty good lead going into the singles. And I think Nick Price was the third singles match out, and he played David Duval, and he beat David 2-1, and that was the end of the match. I was one of the last groups out there playing against Davis Love. And to be honest with you, the two of us, we were just out there completing our round. I ended up beating him 1-up. If you win I a decisive match, do you stop play or do you continue playing? I guess you carry on. So to me, to us, it doesn't make too much sense. When you win the match, I guess, hang it up and go to the locker room; have a shower and have a beer. That's that. I was on the 1st hole when that happened. That could have saved me about three hours of playing golf. In the end, it did turn out as a very decisive win and obviously very pleasing. But, you know, I think we've got a very long way to go before we get anywhere close to Ryder Cup stature. And if we can keep on, you know, playing the way we did in Australia, I think we'll get there a lot quicker. Because the first two matches, they beat us. They beat us quite comfortable. And we probably needed to beat them, probably save us the whole event. So that was good.

Q. Do you think the Presidents Cup means as much as to you guys as the Ryder Cup does to the Europeans?

ERNIE ELS: I don't know. It seems like it's a bit of a bigger deal, the Ryder Cup, only because it's got more history in it, and maybe a bit more talk about the Ryder Cup than maybe the Presidents Cups. Presidents Cup, you pick the International Team from all over the world, and maybe not as high-profile players as maybe the Europeans or Americans. So the public aren't really -- don't know the international players maybe all that well. And it's hard to write about them if the public doesn't know about them. So I think the star quality of the field in the Ryder Cup is probably better than in the Presidents Cup, only because of the public awareness of the players. I would say, yeah, I think it seems like the teams take a different perspective on how they approach the Ryder Cup than Presidents Cup.

Q. Do you have a pretty substantial -- how do you assess the forthcoming match? How do you assess the two teams?

ERNIE ELS: Of this Ryder Cup coming up? On paper, the Americans would blow Europe clean out of the water. They should just probably steamroll them. If they play the Ryder Cup as a stroke-play format, I would still think the Americans would beat them quite comfortably. You've got a young team on both sides. I would say you've got a lot more experience on the American side, though they are also a pretty young team. You've got Tiger, obviously the best player in the world. David Duval, he speaks for himself. I mean, these guys have -- are in their 20s. Justin Leonard is in his early 20s. Phil Mickelson. You've got an unbelievably talented side, the American team. On paper, you'll agree with me, they should just blow them away. But with 18-hole match play, anything can happen. You can put -- you can put a good amateur player against these players, and 18-hole match play, you can beat the guy. And if he gets off to a good start, the underdog gets off to a good start, you've got one helluva match with him. If it's 36-hole match play, heavily favored to Americans. With 18-hole match play, anything can happen. I think that's why -- I think that's why Ryder Cup -- Ryder Cup Week is probably the most-watched golf week in the world. I never miss the Ryder Cup. I love watching that.

Q. Will you be at Wentworth watching, or where will you be?

ERNIE ELS: I'll be in South Africa. I might be in England. I think Ryder Cup is right after Lancome. Wherever I am, I'll watch it.

Q. Do you have an idea what your schedule might look like this year? You said that you might want to play the U.S. almost full-time to give yourself a chance to compete in some of these money lists, what have you.

ERNIE ELS: I don't think I'll play it full-time. I guess I'll play a cat-and-mouse game with you guys, it sounds like. What I tried to say basically is I want to play more tournaments in America. I'm not going to wipe out my European schedule. I kind of like the schedule I play, but I feel I've got to play a couple more events in America to maybe give myself a chance. If I have a good start or if I play well, maybe have a race with Tiger and David in this money-race thing. And last year I played 15, and this year it looks like it's 18. It's not quite enough. They are playing 23, 24 events. I'm going to try to get to 20, 21, 22, and also playing Europe.

Q. Is that a function of how your life has changed a little bit? Married, starting a family?

ERNIE ELS: I believe I've always played this way, ever since I've become a TOUR player over here and I've been playing in Europe ever since 1992 and got my break here in '94 and never really changed my European schedule too much. I always played my event in Europe. And like I said before, I'm not a European. I'm a South African. And just to come from South Africa, to leave that country is quite hard. I've had some things happen to me down there. It's very hard for me to leave that country and settle myself in England or America. My family is back there, and I like spending time there. I really regard myself as a South African. If I was an American or European, it could have been different. I could have played my majority in Europe or in America. But I was born down there, and I just feel like that is a comfortable schedule for me.

Q. Do you think you're on form coming in here, Ernie?

ERNIE ELS: Majors have been a total disaster for me the last few years. Last year, I had a back problem. And this year, I had really no excuse. I just absolutely played terrible in the majors. Started at the Masters. I had a chance. I was three shots behind going into the fourth round, and I shot 80 and that kind of set the tone for the majors. I just don't get it going. I was looking forward to Carnoustie. That golf course didn't quite set up for myself, or anybody. (Laughing.) I really thought -- I played the Scottish Open in '96, and I thought -- but the greenskeeper got to everybody there that week. (Laughing.) And PGA, I felt good going into that week. I finished good the week before -- and I thought I had my game back, and I hit 30 greens at Medinah and shot 4-over par. So I guess my problem was on the greens. But I feel it's coming. Like I said to one of you guys yesterday on the putting green: It's a pity that the majors are done now, because I feel like I'm hitting the ball nicely. I'm enjoying myself. But we'll have to wait till next year. Next year I'm 30 anyway. They say 30 is good for a golfer.

Q. If you were on this side of the aisle here and trying to handicap this field, why would you say you would be in contention here or should be in contention here?

ERNIE ELS: I think the course is playing longer this year than it's ever played. I don't know if they have moved the tees back, but it seems like the long par 4s are really playing long this year. And I played with Sergio yesterday, and he's a pretty long hitter himself. He was going with 3-irons and 4-irons into these par 4s also. So it's one of those courses. It's kind of like an easier U.S. Open setup. If you hit it in the rough, well, yesterday you could kind of advance it towards the green, and the greens are soft. The fields are pretty soft, and they are pretty generous. So although it's a long golf course, it's playable. And I think the guy that drives it well this week will have a good week -- I think Colin Montgomerie could. I think if a player is going to do well here -- but I haven't done well in the past. I think my best finish isn't even in the Top-10 in a limited field. I haven't done all that well around here. But it should suit my game, I think, if I'm playing good.

Q. Curious, how much longer, do you think, before we start seeing courses that are 7500, 7600 yards at sea level?

ERNIE ELS: Not in the very distant future. Medinah was playing 7 1/2 almost, and for some reason, it played short. I hit a lot of 3-woods there. I mean, Carnoustie, they screwed up the whole setup of the whole place. But even that course, if they play it in normal circumstances, I think you would hit a lot of 3-woods anyway. I don't know. You know, the ball is just going -- clubs we're using. Last week in Denver, I was hitting balls there, and Vijay Singh was using a certain driver and -- which some of the guys out here are using, and David Toms usually used it. I hit a couple shots and the ball flew 30 yards past my driver. The technology -- I think the USGA is going to have to put a bit of a hand brake on it, or the golf courses have to just become 7/15 or eight thousand yards.

Q. When you think of the hardest places you've played, Carnoustie aside, is it because of it's length?

ERNIE ELS: No. Why it's playing different now is because they are picking it up. Even Pinehurst, it was -- you could have made Pinehurst where we hit wedges into Evergreen, but if they put the flags where they do, and they make the greens firm and fast, you know, it becomes very difficult. It becomes -- you've either got to play a course like this and move the tees back and let the guys go with 3-irons to short greens, or have a short course and have the greens as hard as wood here and as fast as that, and they are still going to shoot the same kind of scores. You can look at it both ways. I believe that the fairway to play is make it longer, because the ball is going further. So if the guy is hitting it further and straighter, make the course longer and let him go in with a 4-iron, rather than give the guy a 3-wood off the tee with a 12-yard fairway, and a rock-hard green.

Q. What club was that?

ERNIE ELS: I can't say. I'll get in trouble.

Q. Why? Did you like using it?

ERNIE ELS: I can't say I'm hitting the ball further with my own clubs. I'm not going to tell you which driver it is. It's a specially-designed driver. It's coming out in the year 2010.

Q. You made an interesting point there. If you look at this tournament through the years, with the exception of Olazabal's year that he shot 61 here, the scores are pretty constant through equipment changes, player changes, ball changes. What is it? These holes, there's not much they can do for moving tees around. What is it about this course that tends to produce just about the same level of excellent scoring?

ERNIE ELS: I kind of disagree. Jose won this tournament, what was it, ten years ago, 1990? That's still the tournament record, I think. I think he shot what, 15-under? Then you've seen guys one year that it was 1-under maybe a year or two later. If you look at the record -- and you saw Greg Norman, I remember that year I think he won with 2-under. So a guy that just gets hot like Jose shot the lights out there. He was 15-under -- 18-under. So I mean it can be done. This tournament is normally played after the last major of the season. I do believe that players are the -- I would say a little bit fatigued after the last major, especially the top players. And maybe coming here, like Tiger would say, with their A Game, and just get beat up with this golf course a little bit. I think if this tournament is played in the middle of the season when guys are really on form and firing, you'll see better scores. I just think it's the only thing, after the last major, the guys are a little bit tired and maybe not scoring all that well.

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