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June 18, 2000

Ernie Els


LES UNGER: Ernie, thank you very much for joining us. While I won't ask you questions about you, I think everybody would like to have you make a comment on your opponent today who seemed to be playing a flawless game of golf.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, he did. He dominated from day one. From the first hole, he started dominating and never let go. I had the privilege to play with him today. I saw the weather before we went out, and I knew I had a chance. I tried to play a solid round of golf, which I did from tee-to-green, but I didn't make too many putts. My thoughts about Tiger, he didn't miss too many shots. I only saw him miss one putt. And he got it up-and-down every time he missed the green. When you have a guy playing like that, you have no chance, and especially with the scoring over the last days. Just a dominating performance. And you guys are the writers. You can write the stories. But I really had a good time playing with him today and watching the way he won.

Q. Can I just follow-up, the comments -- I'm sorry to ask a Tiger question. But I'd like to know: Watching him, it's not like it's a heart-breaking loss today, playing against him. What does it say about him, the way he played today? How great a player are we seeing right now?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I don't know how much more there is to say about him. We've talked about him for two years now, and I guess we're going to talk about him for the next three. Whatever I say is going to be an understatement. At the moment, he's just a great player. He's only 24 years old. It seems like we're not playing in the same ballpark right now. When he's on, you don't have much of a chance. This week, myself, with my own game, I played one good round of golf. But still, I guess if I played out of my mind, I probably still would have lost by 5, 6, 7. He's a phenomenal player. That's an understatement, probably.

Q. A follow-up to that, Ernie, is what intimidation factor is there out there now amongst yourself and the other players to know that you can play your A game going into the tournament, does it start to, week after week, build up on you, that: "Gee, I can shoot lights out here and still not win the tournament"? What effect does that have on your actual game?

ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. It seems like my schedule -- if I just talk about myself, my schedule is very similar to Tiger's this year. Before his streak or before he got so dominant, I enjoyed it. Maybe now I'll have to change my schedule now. But I don't think so. I really enjoy playing with him. He's the best player in the world by far. It's tough playing with him, especially in the U.S. Open. I think when I played with him in regular PGA TOUR events, it's not too much of a big deal. I still enjoy playing with him, because I feel it pulls me along a little bit. But in the U.S. Open, it's difficult. It's your National Open, and it's a major championship, and he's the top in the world right now in golf. It's tough playing with him. If it was a bit of a dog fight out there, I think it could have become quite interesting. But he was running away with it. To come back to your question, I really haven't given it too much thought in that way, where -- I can't think like that. I've got to think that I can play my game. I may be dreaming, but that's what I've got to believe.

Q. Is it embarrassing to know that you're beat so badly as a group? Is it embarrassing at all?

ERNIE ELS: That's a tough question. I think that's an unfair question. I respect him as a player; he's a great person. He's a good friend of mine, and he's got a lot of friends out there. But is it embarrassing? I've got to laugh at that one. But it's kind of tough to take, you know. You have to look up at the guy. And if comparisons are being made with him and Jack Nicklaus, and he's probably ahead of Jack Nicklaus at this time in his career. He's a great player.

Q. Continuing on that line, is there anything that you guys can do to catch up to Tiger?

ERNIE ELS: Well, if I look at myself -- I don't know about other players -- but if I'm talking about myself, this week my short game would be down. I didn't putt very well. I made some stupid mistakes. I hit a lot of short irons into a lot of greens and didn't make birdies, and sometimes made bogeys. When you have the best player in the world on his game, you can't make any mistakes. You've got to play out of your mind. I played one great round this week. That was yesterday. So what do we have to do to get to him? Hit everything you can get, and then hope for the best.

Q. Ernie, I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about the margin of error that Tiger has closed the gap on, as far as the rest of the field? What you feel the margin of error might be now when you face Tiger? Has he closed it to such a fine line that you feel that you have to play perfect or near perfect? What has he done to you on that level?

ERNIE ELS: It is. He's near perfect, the way he played this week. Before he started out today, I think he had 17 birdies. And I think he made 4 birdies without a bogey today. So if that's not perfect, I don't know what is. I watched some of his golf when I wasn't playing on television, and it seems like when he missed the green, he got it up-and-down. He never got ahead of himself. Just the perfect display of golf. If you want to watch a guy win the U.S. Open playing perfectly, you've just seen it this week.

Q. Ernie, what was it like going for second place and still being so far behind?

ERNIE ELS: It was tough.

Q. Were you watching Jimenez on the scoreboard?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I was. I was trying to play well. I felt that I had to play as good as I can to try to get this day over and done with. It was a tough situation today, after five holes being 2-over, and then all of a sudden 12 shots behind Tiger. What do you do? Do you really knuckle down and play? Or what do you do? I just tried to play as good as I could coming in. To be honest, I tried to hit great numbers. And if my putter didn't fall apart, I think I would have gotten better numbers.

Q. Ernie, take the wildest imaginary tournament that you ever fantasized about, and how close does that performance, whatever it might have been, match what Tiger has done over the last four days?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's got to be a dream. If I could play like that, like he just did the last four days in a major championship, that would be my ultimate golfing week. It seems like -- it's tough to comment on it. He just played a perfect U.S. Open week. He did nothing wrong. And that's kind of what keeps him ahead. When you're a little kid, four or five years old, and dream about winning championships and running away from the field, that's kind of how you have to play. And that's kind of perfect at the moment.

Q. Ernie, as a golfer, what is the more impressive number about his performance, the fact that he won a major by 15 strokes, which basically destroyed Old Tom Morris' record from 1862, or the fact that he finished a U.S. Open at 12-under par?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I tell you one thing, we were playing a different game than I guess Tom Morris did back in the 1700s or whatever. This guy is -- if you put Old Tom Morris with Tiger Woods, he'd probably beat him by 80 shots right now. Hey, the guy is unbelievable, man. I guess he's the first guy to ever go into double figures in a U.S. Open. As you say, to win by 15 strokes, biggest margin in a major. I'm running out of words. Give me a break. (Laughter.)

Q. Ernie, how would you compare your play this week to your two U.S. Open victories? Did do you feel like you played up to that level for you?

ERNIE ELS: No. I never felt like I really had it this week. I would say --yesterday was a really good round, as I said. When I won my U.S. opens, I felt like the way Tiger felt today, probably. Maybe I didn't shoot those numbers, but from the wording, from Tuesday, Thursday morning I was in the tournament, especially '97 and '94. And this week I wasn't in the flow of things. And I got it back yesterday, but it wasn't quite there.

Q. This is kind of an ongoing thing for Tiger. You know, the last two years. What are the things that typically sidetrack a guy from keeping from doing this kind of thing, and why do you think he's been able to avoid them, and will he be able to keep avoiding them?

ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. I'd like to know his formula. It seems like when he takes weeks off, he comes back even better. I don't think he played the week -- no, he didn't play the week before the U.S. Open, and seems like he came out, and he was focused and relaxed, and you kind of knew he was going to win. If I knew that formula, I'll probably do it myself. What keeps him from doing this, he's so focused every time. That hunger for winning a major championship, is like 110 percent. It's there every week. To be honest with you, I don't feel like that every week when I'm playing. He's just different. When it's a regular tournament or a major, he's going to be 110 percent to win and beat the field, and I'm not sure if there's a lot of players like that out there.

End of FastScripts….

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