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January 9, 2003

Ernie Els


TODD BUDNICK: We welcome Ernie Els, 9-under 64. Co-leader after the first round. Ernie, talk a little bit about today. Course was a little bit defenseless out there.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it was. I don't think I've ever seen it this calm. I said to Ricky before we went out, "We better get going early this time. I don't know if we're going to have another day like this."

I hit it nicely, I putted nicely. I had a nice day. What can I say (smiling)?

I hit a lot of greens; I hit a lot of fairways. I just felt quite comfortable out there today.

TODD BUDNICK: We'll take some questions.

Q. What were you thinking 3-under through 11, along the lines of wanting to get off to a good start? You poured it on toward the end. Talk about that stretch.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, you know, I was 3-under through 11.

12, hit a really good drive. I was bordering on the edge of getting a little frustrated because I had a good start.

I made a big mistake on 8.

I was 4-under through 7. I made a big mistake on 8 to go 2-under, double bogey.

I made birdie on 9.

I didn't birdie 10 or 11, which was really playing short.

I had a little pitch to the green on 12. I hit it a little bit long. I was about 12, 14 feet past the hole. I made a good putt there.

I think, you know, I felt good after that. I felt a bit more relaxed after that. I didn't feel like I needed to push. I was 4-under then. I knew a couple of par 5s were coming up. Got some good shots. I hit a good shot on the next hole with a 9-iron to about 10 feet, made a good one there.

14, very short par 4, I tried to hit it onto the green. I pulled it a bit left. I hit a good chip shot, but missed the putt.

You know, 15, I made eagle. Hit a good drive, 7-iron. I just felt good. My swing felt good.

Q. 7-iron on 15?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. You know, I was just hitting a driver. I said yesterday, I'm feeling good with that driver. I just let it go. Hit some good iron shots coming in.

But I was watching the board. Seemed like everybody was doing the same I was doing (smiling). It was a nice day for the guys out there today. I think it's going to blow before the week's over. Can't stay like this. It's impossible (laughter).

Q. How about No. 18 for you? The last seven times you've played it, four birdies, one eagle. Do you have a special affinity for that hole?

ERNIE ELS: Just get on the tee and hit it as hard as you can. Aim right and just blast it. The second shot is the same kind of a shot. You just got to keep it further right than you think. It really slopes into the green there.

You know, I've played it quite well in the last couple of years. You know, when you know the lines into some of the greens, makes it a little bit easier. Hopefully it will keep on treating me good.

Q. What iron did you hit on 8?

ERNIE ELS: On 8, I hit 6-iron. I wanted to hit a little drifter, just hung on to it left. My favorite shot (laughter). It was just a mental error. When I walked off the tee, I said to Ricky, "When you aim left, make sure you cut it." I didn't do that.

Q. Do you feel like this tournament owes you one after coming so close a couple years ago?

ERNIE ELS: No, I don't think so. I don't think so anything in golf owes you anything. You got to go out there and grab it.

I just got beat. The first time against Tiger, he just beat me. I played almost as good as I could. Second time, I played, you know, Jim made some really good putts coming down the stretch. I remember playing with him, you know, final round. He also just outplayed me coming down the stretch.

You know, I've had some good weeks here. Obviously, I'd like to do really well this week. You know, I don't think anything owes you anything.

Q. Have you thought about building a house here?

ERNIE ELS: No. I've got enough around the world (laughter). Too long a flight. Let's put it that way. If I come here, I'll have to just retire. It's too long to go back again.

Q. This time of the year, does it suit you well to play the best of your abilities?

ERNIE ELS: You know, this golf course, you know, I like playing this golf course for my very first tournament. It's a course that was designed -- I think they did a great job, designing it with the Trade Winds in mind. It flows with the Trade Winds. When the other wind comes, like it blew a little bit today, a little breeze, it can get very difficult.

You know, with the fairways as wide, greens as big, first tournament of the season, it's okay.

Q. It's inviting?

ERNIE ELS: Exactly (smiling).

Q. As much time as you spend on our tours around the world, how many of the guys in the field this week do you really know?

ERNIE ELS: I think I know most of them, not on a very personal basis. But I've played with most of the guys. Some of the real younger guys I haven't played with, like Jonathan Byrd. I've seen him hit balls on the range. I know most of the guys.

Q. Kind of an interesting feel to this field, isn't it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it is. I remember one time when I came here, I mean, Tiger won I think nine times that one year, so he took a lot of the spots (laughter). I think there were only about 28 guys here. I enjoyed that week.

Yeah, we've had, what, 18 first-time winners last year. That's why the field is so big.

Q. Some guys like Gene Sauers, have you ever played with him?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I played with him way back just when I got on TOUR. I remember he did well one year at the PGA. I played with him just after that. It's a nice mix, isn't it? You got the older guys, the not so older guys and the very young guys. You got a nice mix here this week.

TODD BUDNICK: Let's go through your card to finish off. You got started with that eagle on 5.

ERNIE ELS: Hit a driver, 7-iron there, to about eight feet, made that.

6, I hit a drive all the way down there just short of the green, chipped it up to about eight feet again.

Then I hit a drive and an 8-iron on 7, just two or three feet.

6-iron, I pulled that left, hit the bank, went into the hazard, pitched it up 15 feet and missed it.

9, I hit a 2-iron off the tee, 5-iron out of the rough, pitched it up, tapped it in.

16, was a drive and a pitch from about 60 yards. Just a tap-in.

18, was drive and a 3-iron, 2-putts from about 25 feet.

TODD BUDNICK: How far was the putt on 15?

ERNIE ELS: 15 was about eight feet.

End of FastScripts....

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