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March 3, 2002

Ernie Els


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: I'd like to welcome the champion of the 2002 GENUITY CHAMPIONSHIP Ernie Els. 9th career PGA TOUR victory. Ernie, we'd like to start with some opening comments.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I am happy. (Laughs) very happy. I was still very concerned to win this golf tournament, a couple of good shots into the last 2-putts there, you know, and I am a happy man. It was a difficult day. It was -- obviously I let him play the way I did the first three rounds scoring-wise. But as I said to you guys yesterday, it's not always that easy with a big lead like that.

I got off to a pretty good start on the first hole, but gave it straight back on the second. I just felt like I was on my back foot from then on. I was kind of catching up a little bit. I saw Tiger birdie the first three holes. After that, I knew I was in for a pretty long tough day. When he gets off to a start like that he can shoot really low, and he's obviously played great over the weekend, but I hung in there.

I feel pretty proud of myself on the back nine, I didn't hit too many loose shots, maybe just my tee shot on 14 with a 2-iron, where I just pulled it left there, and but I had to get up-and-down. But other than that, I felt pretty good over the ball. I was very tentative on my putting today. I guess that's what these kind of leads do to you, you just kind of play a little bit too careful and that's what I did on the greens. I was still pretty aggressive from tee-to-green.

Q. Was 12 the key hole for you?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, absolutely. That was probably the winning putt for me in the tournament. Again, I didn't hit too good a drive down there. I was trying to cut it, hit it in the bunker. Laid it up 130 yards and hit a sand, which are, I guess it was about 15 feet . For once I hit it right on line, perfect speed and went in the hole. I felt like you know, like a little bit of a different player after that. I felt a lot more in control and I felt a little bit more steady. I played pretty well coming in.

Q. Did you know he had birdied (inaudible) right when you are playing --

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, they were playing pretty slow. I don't know if it was the group in front of them. Maybe we were quick, but I felt like I was watching him all day. (Laughs) especially on the back nine and that's difficult sometimes, you know, when he has got momentum and I am trying to find momentum in a positive way. Yeah it was a difficult day, but I am happy, obviously happy that I pulled this one off. I guess that's why you have 8-shot leads, shoot level par and win.

Q. On the delay at 10 you were likely to -- just kind of sit back by the 9th green where ordinarily you might have gone to the tee box and hung out with Tiger.

ERNIE ELS: No, it was getting a little tight then (laughter). I don't know what I would have said to him if I got on the tee. I don't know if I would have punched him or -- (laughs) kicked him in the knees or something, but no, I don't think we had much to say then. We were very competitive then and he's a good friend of mine. I can say hello to him at some other time too (laughs).

Q. Could you talk about the second shot at 14?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that was a really tough one. I really just tried to hit that 2-iron the way I did it the first three rounds, you know, just down the right side, and actually yesterday also pulled it in the bunker, but the wind didn't quite catch it. I thought it was in the bunker again, but hung up on the edge there and it's really a difficult kind of shot, you know, the flag was left. There was no way I could land it on the green and stop it, so I tried today, play like a little British Open shot there; just draw it in and run it up the right side of the green, which didn't quite work out, and I gave myself a pretty nice chance up-and-down it from then on which I did.

Q. At the turn, I mean, he said his game plan was to try to cut the deficit in half at the turn.

ERNIE ELS: Which he did.

Q. And then some. What is it like being in the pursued guy's shoes at that point?

ERNIE ELS: It's not a very comfortable feeling. I mean, I am sure you have played club golf before and blowing a lead there a little bit, it is the same emotions go through you, you are trying to stop it, you are trying to play your own game, trying to be aggressive, trying to make birdies, but I guess your subconscious is just a little bit more safe than you want it to be, you know, (laughs), so it was difficult to get myself totally committed to just play aggressive golf. I was really playing kind of a careful game today and it's not much you can do about it. I have been in that position before where a guy is just -- he's just going beautifully and you are just going to really find it. I was trying to just play solid golf coming in the last nine holes, which I kind of did.

Q. Is it different because it's Tiger who is doing it as opposed to let's say --

ERNIE ELS: I would say, yes, it is a little different because you know, he has wiped out leads like that before, so you know, when he gets on a roll, he is a great player, as you all know, it's sometimes hard to -- it's hard sometimes for him to hit a bad shot when he gets on a roll like that. He was playing really good and yeah, I would say it's different coming from him than maybe other players.

Q. You said yesterday that you had learned something from Thailand. Was there one specific thing maybe on the back nine that you felt you applied something that you learned?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I stayed committed. I really stayed committed this time and really trusted my swing a little better this time around and I was very tentative on the greens today, but at least I stayed committed over the shots.

Q. I'm sure you would have preferred an easy win, but is there any satisfaction to be taken out of this the way it came down and the fact that you did hold him off and the fact that you had a history with Tiger?

ERNIE ELS: No, definitely -- I mean, you know, if I look back when I get on the plane tonight and I am flying and after a couple of beers when I have relaxed a little bit, I will think back on this and maybe look at it as a blessing in disguise maybe for the future. I have had some tough, tough breaks in the last year, not winning tournaments and this definitely would have been a very difficult one to swallow, but you know, as I say, I felt like I committed myself better this time around and you know, it's hard to say, I mean, having an 8-shot lead and then coming down the stretch and, it's really anybody's ballgame but I felt that I hung in there the last 45 holes pretty well.

Q. Would you say it is a blessing because it makes you tougher, things like this?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, I would like to think so, but you know, next time I might play better, there is always learning experiences you go through in life and especially on the golf course, so this is preparation for next time, so at least I can fall back on this one, and it could only get better.

Q. That's sort of what I was getting at, you take something from this and you apply it next time, better than you were before handling it?

ERNIE ELS: Well this has been a start now (laughs).

Q. As you say, I know you and Tiger are friends, but right now, about a third the questions has been about Tiger Woods. Is that a little annoying after you won the tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think he was the story today. I think I was the story for the first three rounds. But let's face it, I think he was the story for today. You know, just the nature of it, I guess, but you know, I am happy to talk about him when I have won, not too bad in the past when he's won, this is a better feeling.

Q. Did you see him?

ERNIE ELS: I think he's already gone.

Q. You had talked about the relief of winning and not having to be asked about not winning anymore on this Tour. Do you think once you have got this going, do you see yourself winning two, three more this year?

ERNIE ELS: I would like to think so, I played pretty well this week. I think I have only -- I made four bogeys all week and you know, I played good this week. I have got that win back so you know, I am looking forward to a good year now.

Q. You talked about thinking this might help you down the road, being able to hang on. Tiger had the buying lead at the Open in 2000. From a mental standpoint do you think that you might be able to adjust next time you get in a similar situation and apply what he maybe has done?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think I kind of answered that question already, but you know, I mean, I tried to go out there and play my game as I said, but it didn't work out that way and in the end hanging on, I got to take that positive out of it. I could have gone the other way. 18 is not exactly the easiest finishing holes, even with a three or four shot lead, so I really nailed it down the middle there and hit a good second shot into the green and he didn't make his birdie, but I mean, I did some positive good things coming down the last five holes.

Q. What is it like when the guy that's chasing you is right in front of you and you can see every move he makes, he's taking every shot, he's making every putt and you are standing out there in the fairway; do you watch, do you not watch, do you want to know, do you not want to know; what do you do?

ERNIE ELS: I like to know always, so I saw most of it, as I said, and it's very difficult, you know, it's pretty difficult, especially you know, Tiger being Tiger and playing -- he has got a lot of fans anyway, but especially in the United States, you know, the crowd was getting pretty excited in front there too and I felt like I had to climb a bit of a wall there for a while (laughs). I had some good support myself, but you know, when he gets on a roll like that it just seems like there is a different buzz up there and the people really get behind him. So it's a pretty difficult situation. I'd like to see you guys in that situation (laughter).

Q. You talk about him on this roll and you admittedly weren't at your sharpest today. Was there ever a point where you thought to yourself, This just can't be happening?

ERNIE ELS: Well, no, I try to really keep that out of my head, but my emotions were going all over the place. When he's making birdies and I am trying to get going and it's not happening, I know one mistake could cost me the tournament kind of a thing, you know, it's a pretty difficult situation to be in. I would have loved to have gotten off to a better start. I think that was big today. If I could have gotten off to a little better start, I think I could have been a little bit more calm and a little bit more in control on the front nine. I think the (inaudible) on 10 helped me to just kind of calm things down and start over again.

Q. Is pressure or is -- you talk about one shot today could really change things, is that a different type of pressure than one that's all square going the entire distance?

ERNIE ELS: I try to take that situation down the last six holes. I felt like I was fighting better the last six holes than I was the first eleven, 12 holes, I was just trying to hang on just trying to squeeze the ball in the fairway and then after the putt on 12, I felt now I can fight again, I have got something good that's happened and I felt like let's go now. So I try to take that situation off a 3-shot lead and try to level it out and try and fight a little better.

Q. On 12 you gave a little look back to the 13 tee box you went ahead and made the putt. What was going through your mind there?

ERNIE ELS: I was just pleased (laughs) that I made the putt.

Q. Gave a little look book to Tiger on the tee. Anything particular?

ERNIE ELS: Not particularly anything, no, I was just probably daydreaming.

Q. You and Tiger hit the ball about the same distance yet his swing looks so fierce and yours look so relaxed. How does that happen?

ERNIE ELS: He has got a different ball trajectory little bit.

Q. Different what?

ERNIE ELS: Ball trajectory, what do you call it, launch angle, he hits it a little higher than I do, but you know, I am using good equipment and I am hitting it pretty solid, so and I am about 225, so I should hit it far. (Laughs).

Q. You are also a pretty tall guy, you almost feel like you have to duck when some of those planes come over out there, how does that affect your concentration?

ERNIE ELS: It was fine. Wasn't any problem.

Q. I guess you said you try not to think about bad things when the lead is slipping away but does like Greg Norman Augusta any of that stuff come slip or are you in the here and now?

ERNIE ELS: No, you try and do what you have to do. I can't help other players, I can only help myself,. Obviously 1998 was really the own time he caught me and we went into a playoff and he beat me in a playoff. That wasn't very nice. Obviously today, you know, after his start and my start, you know, obviously, as I said it was in the back of my mind but I was trying to fight that.

Q. The 18th hole has a history. Talk about just hitting that green and what your feeling was -- was that the last tough shot of the day?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I mean, the drive especially, probably one of the toughest drives on the Tour really. I can only think of maybe TPC being maybe as difficult and then the second shot I only had 158 to the hole, into a slight breeze. Anything left, you are gone. So that's also pretty difficult. But I maintained there.

Q. Do you consider yourself -- you and Tiger do you have a rivalry?

ERNIE ELS: Well, as close as one as you can get probably -- I think last year was Phil Mickelson. I think the year before was myself. Year before that was probably David Duval. I figure this year it's me again. He's kind of the guy out there obviously, but you know, I feel it's me this year.

Q. You came in with the idea of playing conservatively and that didn't work for -- until the middle of the round. Did you ever think about changing that a little bit, changing the plan?

ERNIE ELS: Yep. (Laughs) yep, you know, as I said, I think 12 changed a lot for me when I made that putt, but coming if I had some chances on 15 to make birdie which just hang on the edge 16, poor putt from 8, left that short. 17 left it short. I guess I was still conservative but my ball striking was good.

Q. You said the playoff in Kapalua even though you lost was still a lot of fun. Was this fun today?

ERNIE ELS: It was work today. (Laughs). At Kapalua I played the same way he did today. We both played exactly the same way. I think we were tied going to the final round. We were still tied after 72 holes. It was a different game. Today he's coming and I am holding onto a lead which I don't want to let go. So it's two you know, two worlds at one going for the first prize. I am in a different situation than him. I am holding on and he's coming. I guess there were two different battles this time.

Q. One was more fun than the other?

ERNIE ELS: The other one was -- would have been more fun if I won. But this one, you know, obviously winning is nice.

Q. Looking forward to the majors, can you talk about how prevalent they are? Is this happy to get back -- is this a stepping stone for you get back to being a major winner?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think obviously my game is pretty good at the moment. There's a couple of aspects where I can work on which I will work on. I just try and get tougher and tougher and by the time The Masters comes around I will be ready to play. I am just going to go to Dubai now I am going to try and win there. Every week I am playing when I am playing I want to feel like I can play the same kind of level that I have played this week. Let's wait and see.

Q. Going to Dubai any concerns about -- it's kind of a long trip then come back and play two in a row, just the whole grind of that before Augusta, no concerns at all?

ERNIE ELS: Well, we're leaving now. We'll get there Monday afternoon and I will have to play Sunday, I will come, and Bay Hill, I am staying at home which helps a little bit. TPC is a tough long tough week. But I have committed myself to go and do this which I did end of last year. I got two weeks off before The Masters, so I think it's okay. I have been doing it for ten years anyway.

Q. Appearance fee just gone up?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, why do you think I am going? (Laughs).

End of FastScripts....

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