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January 9, 2000

Ernie Els


JAMES CRAMER: We have Ernie Els with us, a runner-up in the 2000 Mercedes Championships with a 16 under par, 276 total. Ernie, congratulations on a good tournament. Why don't we go over your score card before we take some questions.

ERNIE ELS: It's been a long day, let me think. I birdied No. 2, hit a 5-iron to five feet. Birdied No. 5, 4-iron onto the green, 2-putted from 40 feet. 9, hit a driver, 3-wood, short of the green, pitched it to ten feet. 10, I made bogey. I hit a drive, 9-iron left of the green, chipped it up and 2-putted from about 12 feet. Birdied 11. I hit an 8-iron there to about six feet. I eagled 18 with a driver and a 2-iron to about 12 feet.

Q. How far was the 2-iron?

ERNIE ELS: Just 250 front, and 290 or something to the flag, 292 or something, down the wind.

JAMES CRAMER: Birdie 1st hole.

ERNIE ELS: Driver, 3-wood from 280 front the second time. Really hit a good putt. I thought I made the putt. Just went to the right at the last bit.

Q. How far was that, about 10?

ERNIE ELS: That was about 25 feet. Then, you know, the second extra hole, I just left it short. What's your chances after that, after his putt.

Q. How long was that putt, do you think?

ERNIE ELS: 40 feet.

Q. His putt or your putt?

ERNIE ELS: His putt, yeah. Mine was the same distance, 36, 35 feet.

Q. You played four rounds. You made one double bogey and one bogey, which is really -- you couldn't make birdie putts, but incredible golf. You can't win. Is it frustrating? How do you feel?

ERNIE ELS: Well, obviously I'm disappointed. I mean, I think the last two days I hit the ball better than Tiger did from tee to green. I gave myself a lot of opportunities for birdies. I just didn't make the putts, you know. The putt on 14, I hit a 4-footer down the hill there, I shoved it a bit, caught the bottom edge. 16, I hit ten feet down the hill, caught the top edge of the lip, didn't want to go. If you're not making putts, you know, you can hit the ball as good as you want to. You know, against a guy like Tiger, you need to make those putts. But I hit the ball really well. You know, never got myself into trouble the last two days. Hit a lot of greens, played well.

Q. The other day you mentioned Tiger being a freak, in a good way, about his great play. Did that kind of echo in your mind on the putt on the second extra hole?

ERNIE ELS: You know, he does that quite a lot. But, I mean, you know, he does it at the right time. The putt on 18, the first extra hole, you know, he had about eight foot there to stay in the playoff. He makes that putt. Makes a 40-footer on the second extra hole. You know, bit of luck, but a lot of skill.

Q. Do you feel because of those short putts that maybe you shouldn't have been in the playoff to begin with?

ERNIE ELS: If I look back now, the putts I missed - I don't want to sound like I've got sour

grapes - but, yeah, if you miss a 4-footer and an 8-footer, I should work on that.

Q. Do you walk away from this feeling like, "I fought this guy toe to toe"? You really played superbly. He might have gotten you this time, but certainly it's a good way to start the year.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you know, it's a good start to the year. I mean, I played well. I fought pretty well. But, you know, when you feel like you're playing better than the guy, and he still beats you, you know, you've got to ask yourself a question here and there. 0bviously, again, I've got to come back to those couple of putts I missed. All in all, you know, Tiger did what he had to. I mean, the 3-wood he hit into the 72nd hole, that was a glorious shot. Then he makes the putt. I made the same putt. You know, he just does the things he has to do. That's confidence. You know, winning is kind of a habit for him right now. You know, he's playing good. Even when he's not playing good, yesterday he makes an eagle on 18. That's confidence. The more I play with him in these kinds of situations, the better for myself. We'll see next time.

Q. About your own answer on 18 the first time around, what was your putt, straight uphill?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I hit the bottom a little bit on the right side, maybe a right-edge putt. Believe me, under that kind of pressure, I mean, if you don't hit it perfect, it doesn't go in. At least I made one putt on the Back 9 (laughter). That was the 72nd hole.

Q. Can you enjoy the competition like this, even though you didn't win, just the excitement of being in the hunt?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, yeah. I've got to feel excited about this, you know. I've got to take the positive out of this one. I didn't make too many mistakes coming down the stretch. I mean, ball-striking wise. You know, the guy beat me. He's No. 1 in the world. Probably should have beaten me on paper, but I gave him a good go. You know, we'll see next time. I mean, I'm looking forward to the next time. See if I can push him this far again.

Q. Did you get the most satisfaction out of that approach shot on 18 the first time?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. That was the best feeling I've had all week. Coming off a downhill lie, you know, the club I had, I just felt perfect with the club I had. I had a 2-iron. I played that shot earlier on in the week. I just had to trust the swing there. It felt really good. The putt felt even better (laughter).

Q. Was the total Matchplay type of atmosphere all day really?

ERNIE ELS: I would say so. You know, I watched the board a little bit, what David did. David, when he gets hot, he makes a lot of birdies. I checked him out. I really kept my eye on Tiger all day, you know, just tried to stay with him. Let's put it that way.

Q. You came here basically, we asked earlier in the week if this showed some renewed dedication that you're here this week and next week. You didn't win. Do you feel like you got something out of it?

ERNIE ELS: I think I've answered that question. But, yeah, I'm starting earlier this year, for a reason: to get my game to the level where David and Tiger and the rest of the guys are. If I can keep on focusing like I did this week, you know, keep my dedication to the game, I think I could have a good year. I think I've found a good driver with Taylor Made now, getting a bit more distance out of it, hitting it pretty good. If I can keep working on my golf swing and keep on getting better, can I play with these guys week-in and week-out.

Q. I know it bothers some of the other guys when we keep asking about Tiger, but he's done so well. Do you get a special appreciation for what he's doing right now or do you have to wait four or five, maybe ten years, and sort of back away?

ERNIE ELS: I think he's a legend in the making, if he's not already. I think you guys have helped him a lot, too, when he was growing up. But he backed it up with his golf game, you know, especially this last year or so. He's had it all his way so far, let's put it that way (laughter). The great players got it their way most of their lives. I mean, if you look at Nicklaus, I don't think he had too many bad years. Look at Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, those kind of guys, they pretty much had it made from the start. I think Tiger is in the same group, you know. He's going to be awfully tough to beat in the Majors this year. Again, you know, the Majors is where they rate you as a player. These tournaments are good and all, but when you win a Majors, that's when you really put your mark down. He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s (laughter).

Q. Even after the couple of putts that you missed, he gave one back on 17. What were you thinking walking down the hill?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, he missed a couple of shots, to be honest. It was a tough pitch shot, out of this kind of grass, to get it close to the flags. It's almost like a bunker shot you have to play. You've got to really trust the shot. I think, you know, he just tried to get it close there. He had about ten feet for his par. You know, I really expected him to make that. I was quite surprised when he didn't make it. I felt a lot better going to the 18th tee even with him. If I was one shot behind, you know, I had to make two. I felt if I, you know, make a really good birdie on 18, I felt like I had a chance. I don't think I had to make eagle. I was surprised when he missed that putt on 17.

Q. When you got to 18 the first time, you were up eight or ten feet; he was down there. Did you think, "I've got him in the cross hairs now"?

ERNIE ELS: No (laughter). He's pretty good from that distance. I had a good feeling about my chances all day, you know. I even had a good feeling going down 1. The putt he made there was quite unexpected; the one on 18 wasn't.

Q. You said that you like the competitive issues here, playing against Tiger, David. In factoring your scheduling for the year, would you seek them out in certain events that you maybe wouldn't --?

ERNIE ELS: No. I made my schedule in October already last year. I'll just stick with my tournaments. I'll play my same schedule, a tournament here and there extra, like these two are extra. I might play at the Kemper Open. I might play the Byron Nelson. I say I might, but I'm kind of telling you I am (laughter). I made my schedule in October. So, yeah, I'm playing a couple of extra here and there. As I said before, I'm playing a couple more, but I'm not going to check out where they're playing. I'd rather not play where they play (laughter).

Q. Do you get the sense he wills the ball in the hole, some of those putts down the stretch?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I guess the one on -- the second extra hole, I guess he did that. Grainy green, that long a putt, you know, you have to have a little bit of heart and a bit of guts to hit it that hard. If it missed the hole, he was four feet by the hole, but he was kind of probably thinking he was going to hole it. That's exactly what he did.

Q. Was that down-grain?

ERNIE ELS: No, that was kind of into the grain.

JAMES CRAMER: Thank you.

ERNIE ELS: Thank you.

End of FastScripts….

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