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June 17, 2000

Ernie Els


LES UNGER: Needless to say, 68 in these conditions is a darn good score, and I'm assuming you feel pretty good about it.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. When we started out, it was pretty calm out there. And it seems like when we got to the 7th hole, the wind started blowing. By the time we got to No. 10, I was hitting a 2-iron for my second shot after a good drive. I played well. I made some good saves, but -- I knocked in on that second shot for No. 4 for the eagle, and I birdied No. 6, the par-5. I was 3-under through 6. Then I kind of got my head down and played my way back into the clubhouse. I made, I think, three birdies and a bogey from there. So 68, I have to take. It's probably one of the best rounds I've played in major golf, considering the weather conditions. And I've got half a chance.

Q. Ernie, Tiger Woods is 8 strokes ahead of the rest of the field. Is it a good thing for Tiger to be this dominant?

ERNIE ELS: Is it a good thing for Tiger?

Q. Is it good for golf for Tiger to be this dominant?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I would say so, yeah. It seems like -- let's think now, in the '60s you had Palmer, in the 70's, Nicklaus, and the '80's, Watson. Seems like we've really got a dominant figure in golf, in any sports, with Tiger Woods. He's probably the most recognizable sportsman on the planet right now. And it's always good for us; it's good for me. It brings in sponsors; it brings in a lot of media, a lot of people. Seems like golf has really taken off with him coming through. David Duval has helped it a lot. Sergio and some other players. But it would be even better for golf if someone could step up and play with him. It's very difficult to do. He's a great player. But to come back to the question, this is good for golf.

Q. You just talked about somebody stepping up. Do you feel like you stepped up today and made a little bit of a statement?

ERNIE ELS: I played a good round of golf. It wasn't like I was playing with him or we were on the same score. I was trying to get myself back in the tournament more than anything. I've had my run-ins with Tiger in the past, but I haven't had enough of those run-ins with him. I'd like to get more of those battles with Tiger. I think it's definitely good for my game. And hopefully tomorrow I have half a chance, if he doesn't run away this afternoon.

Q. What will he have to come back to, to feel like you're within range?

ERNIE ELS: Who knows around this place? I played with one of the world's best players today, Colin Montgomerie. He played very well. He had two or three bad holes and shoots 79. Anything can happen out there. He made 11 shots today, but it didn't seem like that. It seemed like he was playing good golf. You get off to a bad start, or if you have a couple of bad holes on a stretch, anything can happen out there. But he's got to come back, or somebody has to play really well this afternoon. I don't even want to say. Probably five, six shots -- I don't know. Anything right now. I have to play as good tomorrow.

LES UNGER: He had a triple bogey earlier today.

Q. Considering the conditions you just described, with the weather, the course the USGA set up, how impressive are the scores, the fact that he's 8-under at this point?

ERNIE ELS: I'd like to see how he's going to play No. 12. The wind is blowing left-to-right. The flag is just over the bunker -- probably five yards over the bunker, not even. I hit this beautiful 4-iron, I thought, and it flew right by the hole, pitched maybe a foot from the hole, and I had to fish it over the green and play it from there. Some of these holes coming in, it's very, very difficult. The golf course is probably fair, but the way the golf course is designed and the way the greens are set up this year, it makes it awfully tough to get the ball close to some of these holes. If you don't score on your scoring holes, you're in trouble.

Q. Ernie, go through the first couple of days, what worked and what didn't work, that you ended up plus-five?

ERNIE ELS: Well, the first day I wanted to keep playing. We were on the 11th fairway, and the Maggert group was behind us. They were on the 10th tee still. We were just about to play our second shots up to the green, and the USGA official with us held us back and said we were in suspension. And we were like -- not overly surprised, but I was a little surprised, because we played our 10th hole, we could barely see the flag. But we knew in our group, Lee Janzen and Bob Estes, as many hours as we played on that, we played, because it was perfect. When it was called, at that time, I just felt it was a bad situation, because that next -- I just felt that I don't even have to see the flag. I just wanted to play, because it was calm. And I felt I had a bad break there. And the next morning, I came back, I was ready to play. And we got out to the golf course, I think it was 7:30, and I didn't even come back to hit balls. I just stayed back at the putting green for another hour and then went straight out there. I could have made a mistake. And I shot 40 on the back nine. That was the only bad stretch I had in the tournament was that round we had to finish on the first day. And I felt like I really shot myself in the foot there. And I played pretty well yesterday and shot 2-over.

Q. In retrospect, you wish you would have gone back to the range, or why didn't you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I felt we were on and off like five times. And I thought -- I didn't think we were going to go out there and play. I thought we were going to be out there until 11:00. I was speaking to some of the locals around the putting green, and they said: "This is going to be here until noon." And I took their word for it.

Q. Given this is the Open, not The Masters, and Pebble Beach, not Augusta, is this more impressive in a way than what Tiger did at Augusta?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you have to look at this way: I feel that Tiger has the best end of the draw. His end of the draw had it a lot easier than me. I don't want to sound like a cry baby here, but that's the way I see it. Yesterday, playing 10, I was hitting a 3-iron there. When I watched on television yesterday, he was going with an 8-iron. I know he's long. But I was seeing Thomas Bjorn was hitting a 3-iron off of 9. But he's played awesome. Even that first day to shoot, I think -- was it 5-under the first day? And then yesterday, playing so awesome. He's the best player in the world. But let's see now.

Q. Ernie, can you talk about the 8, 9, 10 stretch with the wind?

ERNIE ELS: Well, 8 is downwind, but it's the smallest target out there. I couldn't keep an 8-iron on the green today. It went through the green. You've got to try to almost get it short of the green and putt uphill, make 4 and run. But then 9, I hit a 4-iron in there, hit front left, so you can't get close to the flag. And 10, so-so driver. I hit a 2-iron for my second shot. And it's such a small target. I left it short of the green. And then 11 -- even 11, back down the breeze. The green is so firm, if you hit it past the flag, you have a really tough putt. And I mentioned 12. I think that's the tough stretch today.

Q. Ernie, Tiger, he's hit one into the water at 18. He has a triple bogey, and he's still up by 8. How frustrating is that for, I guess pursuers? Does that get into your minds, like what's it going to take?

ERNIE ELS: He's always making a lot of birdies. To have the mistakes he's made, you have to make birdies. And that means he's hitting it very well. I don't know of any player this week who ever made a double bogey, at least. That's just the U.S. Open; that's normal. We all know how easy it is to make a bogey. But as I said, to still have an 8-shot lead after making those mistakes, he's making a lot of birdies. And as I said, that's hitting it well and putting very well.

Q. Do you feel like you're back in this thing, in the tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I have to believe that, yeah. As I've said before, anything can happen out there. But it seems like Tiger is so solid at the moment. I don't know what it's going to take.

End of FastScripts….

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