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March 2, 2002

Ernie Els


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: I'd like to welcome Ernie Els, our third round leader. Ernie, 66 today, 3 strokes better than your nearest competitor currently 17-under par for the tournament. 8 shots ahead of several players at minus 9. If you could just get us started with some opening comments about the day. Obviously it went well for you out there.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I had a good day. Yeah, obviously I saw the wind was up off a little different direction, but pretty much similar to yesterday and after yesterday's round I didn't feel all that scared going off. I felt that I just had to kind of do what I did yesterday and I thought I will be okay. Rick has been giving me good clubs, good yardage and I have been hitting it quite solid, so I felt good there in that respect.

But saying that, on 4 I came off a 4-iron and I cut it into the water there. I got a drop down there and I made a good putt for bogey and I think that kind of settled things a little bit. After that I played two more really good holes. On 5 and 6; 5 I hit a nice wedge in there to about twelve feet, made that one. So I felt I didn't lose any ground after a good solid start. I just hit some really good shots.

6 I hit a really good 5-iron in there, made a putt, really felt I had another shot on the field there because that hole was really playing tough.

Q. What was that iron into there?

ERNIE ELS: 5-iron. I made a couple of nice pars. Actually I birdied 7, but, you know, I just tried to really just stay in the present, today, and just play my game and I made some good putts on the back nine again. I just felt good.

Q. How comfortable were you out there? You looked very relaxed, smiling.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I won't say it's a walk in the park, but I enjoy the golf course. I feel I can play it pretty well and when you are making putts, you know, you might as well smile. I mean, I don't think too many guys have made as many putts as I have made this week.

Q. You had a certain kind of laughter after the putt on 7 which is about what, 20 feet or so, almost like it was too good to be true. Do you remember that?

ERNIE ELS: Yes, it was a really good one. I felt like I didn't hit it quite hard enough. I thought it was going to be short all the way. It just kept on going. I think the wind kind of helped it on its way and it just dropped into the front edge, so I felt like that was a bit of a bonus. I didn't feel like I hit it quite the way I wanted to.

Q. Some people I had heard talking about one of the hardest things is to play with a big lead. Your thoughts on tomorrow, what is your game plan?

ERNIE ELS: Well, that's true, you guys think it's pretty easy. I know a lot of other people out there think it's easy, but when you let it slip a little bit, you know, things momentum can go the other way and you don't want that to happen. Like I said, to the guys downstairs here, I have got to try and be aggressive, but careful at the same time. You got to go out there and play your game the way you have been and just make absolutely sure you don't make any big mistakes. So that's going to be my plan tomorrow. Hopefully it's very similar tomorrow with the breeze. I feel that it keeps the field a little bit at bay because it's really tough to shoot a 62, 63 in winds like this. That might help me tomorrow if it blows again.

Q. Can you recall ever having a lead this big?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think at Buick Classic Westchester, 1997 or '96.

Q. Why do you think you play so well in the wind?

ERNIE ELS: When you are hitting it that solid you just feel that it doesn't affect it that much. A lot of times I haven't played all that well in wind. But I think my percentages are pretty good in the breeze. I have played a lot of British Opens and I have done okay there, so I have got a bit of experience in this stuff. As I said, I like the course.

Q. You don't sound too surprised by this, especially after what you said yesterday of how well you are playing. Was there a point this week or even last week where you knew that your game was at such a level that it is not all that surprising to you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I am a little surprised I am 8 ahead. I thought somebody would have played -- shot a little low today, but I am just doing what I thought I could do for a long time. I am just trying to stick to a game plan and just trying to play as good as I can and it is basically all I can say. That's all you can do, really.

Q. Nothing in your swing? Earlier in the week where you could feel everything coming together in a nice --

ERNIE ELS: Well, I practiced a little bit in Orlando. I had a week off after the Match Play, saw Lead a little bit. Played golf with Frank Nobilo, and on Sunday and Monday, and he helped me a little bit, you know, with my aim. I wasn't aiming all that well he thought, so he helped me with that a little bit, I seemed to feel a lot more comfortable over the ball after he said that. I've basically just been the same I've been for the last couple of months.

Q. Frank or Lead helped you with your aim?


Q. Coming into -- obviously this year, didn't win last year, was this your No. 1 goal to win again before anything else back on this Tour?

ERNIE ELS: No, just the wind. I play a lot of international golf as well and I just felt that, you know, I just want to win this year. I feel like I put a lot of hard work into it, all kinds of aspects of my game, and wherever I play, I just want to feel that I can compete and win.

Q. Tiger was just in here a minute ago he said of all the guys out there, over the last couple of years, it seems like you and he have had more head-to-head shootouts than anybody else he had occasion to run up against. Does it seem like it's frequently him that's standing between you and the winner's circle here? Certainly I guess the case was in 2000.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that certainly was the case. (Laughs) I mean, I finished second, I think -- I don't know how many times that year. I think 80% of the time to him, so yeah, I think he has got a point there. He's good friend of mine and obviously best player in the world right now, and -- he's just a hell of a player. Yeah, it seems like that, I was very quiet last year and he seemed a little bit quiet also at the end of the year. But I think in 2000 we had a pretty nice go at each other, especially in Hawaii, it was nice and memorable, especially for him probably, you know, I enjoy competing out here and especially against the best, he's definitely the best out there, so, hopefully I will be ready this year for him.

Q. I realize no one wants to lose, but when you look back at Hawaii was that fun? Was that something you relish? Both of you had a pretty high level of your game and 1-putt decides it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, definitely after we both made eagle on the 72nd hole, we got back on the first playoff hole. He actually mentioned it first, he said he was having a lot of fun and I felt the same way. I felt that we were playing at a very nice level of golf and we both were kind of the same wavelength and he just basically made that putt to beat me, but we had fun.

Q. Would you feel more comfortable if you had an 8- shot lead and the guy second wasn't Tiger?

ERNIE ELS: (Laughs) yeah, probably. (Laughter).

Q. 5 was probably the key hole for you today; is that correct, would you say?


Q. Was it because the margin was back three or four -- was it because you come off of a poor swing and you rectify it quickly with two good swings? Was it score? Swing related?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely more score related. I felt I had a nice start and after the bad swing on 4 although I made a bogey after that bad swing, you know, I felt I let a shot slip there and I needed to get back into it quickly and I was actually thinking about hitting a driver on the 5th hole where I could have probably hit it really close to the green but as it ended up, I hit a 2-iron and sand iron which worked out and I made a good putt, so definitely 5 was a big one and I think 6 was even bigger. That was a really tough hole. I felt I made up a shot and a half on the field there. Hit a really good drive and 5-iron, made a good putt there.

Q. All the years you have been here had you ever had to walk up so far 18th tee box before you stuck your peg in the ground?

ERNIE ELS: I think once before. I was quite happy where it was. It's not often that you can hit sand iron in there.

Q. Birdies.

ERNIE ELS: 11 I hit 3-iron off the tee and I hit 8-iron to about 15, 18 feet behind the hole. 12 I hit a driver right, hit way too far for a lay-up went through the bunker on the left onto the high side of the bunker and I hit a sand iron just through the green. Was only about 15 feet away but I had to hit one of those blade shots with a sand iron and went straight in the whole. 13 hit 6-iron and holed about a 22-footer there for birdie.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: How well do you know Peter Lonard.

ERNIE ELS: Very well. We have played a lot of golf in Europe and Australia. His Cricket team is absolutely annihilating us down in South Africa hopefully we won't talk about cricket tomorrow.

Q. Johnnie Walker, speaking about Tiger, hate to bring it up, will that creep in your mind at all tonight? Did you learn anything from that?

ERNIE ELS: I definitely learned from that. You learn from your mistakes, and I definitely learned from it, and as I say I just got to play a good round of golf tomorrow and stick with my game plan. I definitely learned.

End of FastScripts....

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