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January 11, 2003

Ernie Els


TODD BUDNICK: We welcome Ernie Els, who at 25 under par, 194, broke the tournament 54-hole record, and tied the 54-hole mark in relation to par on the PGA TOUR set by Gay Brewer in 1967 at the Pensacola Open.

Other than the double bogey on 17, super day for you out there.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it was a good day. You know, a little surprised again about the weather. Seems like they talk about it all the time. You know, again, it didn't blow. Again, you had to take advantage and go after the golf course.

I did just about everything right. You know, 17, I'm still a little bit hot about that. I was really trying to hit a 3-wood -- wanted to hit a driver, but I spoke myself into a 3-wood there. Made a bad swing. Tried to hit it a little bit hard and pulled it left. Just basically played the hole bad. Hit it short of the green for my third shot, then didn't quite read the putt right for my fourth shot. Hit a pretty good fifth putt, but it didn't break.

You know, 18, I didn't play properly either.

But other than that, I basically did everything right. You know, I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens. I had a good day. I had quite a fun day up to 17.

25-under par through three rounds, I think that's a personal best for me anyway.

Looking forward to tomorrow. I'd like to get stuck in tomorrow, be a little bit more disciplined tomorrow in my game. But, again, K.J. played great golf. You've got to give him credit. Shoot 11-under par in one round, that's going very well.

It will be a pretty good shoot-out tomorrow. I'm sure he's going to come out after me. I've got to try to play well again tomorrow.

TODD BUDNICK: We'll take some questions.

Q. Was how you played 18 a by-product of your double bogey at 17?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I was a little surprised at my second shot, that it didn't run. I had the same yardage on the first day, hit exactly the same shot. I think yesterday's rain took some fire out of that fairway short of the green. But I didn't hit a good putt. The first putt, when I hit it, I knew I hit it too soft. I didn't quite hit good putts coming down the last two holes.

I felt I was focused again on 18. I was a little hot, don't get me wrong. But, as I say, the second shot surprised me a little bit coming up short.

Q. As well as you played, despite the way you finished, do you feel like you're in firm control of this?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you know, as I say, you walked most of the way today, I played pretty decent today. I tried to keep it out of trouble, tried to play the safe sides of the greens. I hit some really good putts. You know, the weather allowed us to do that, too, today. It was pretty calm out there. I was watching what K.J. was doing. He was just having a free go out there, and I was playing pretty well myself.

You know, the last two holes, I changed it a little bit. Only a two-shot lead now. It could have been four or five shots. It makes a bit of a change. In another way, it makes me focus differently tomorrow. I don't have to protect. I can go out there and be aggressive. It's probably going to be a good shoot-out tomorrow. I mean, he's playing really well and I'm playing well.

Q. Why did you change your mind on 17 tee? Have you be using driver the first two days?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I came very close to hitting it through the fairway. I think that's why I changed my mind. You know, that driver is going a long way. You know, if I caught it like I did on 15, I was going to hit it through the fairway. I probably would have felt better if I did that than hit a bad 3-wood. Probably should have stuck to my guns, but we're all human.

Q. Can you tell us why you're playing so well?

ERNIE ELS: I can't tell you. I can't answer that question. I've got my name on my bag (laughter).

Q. Is it a matchplay situation tomorrow with you and K.J.? Is there a possibility of somebody coming out of the field?

ERNIE ELS: Well, K.J. is 23, I'm 25, I see Retief is at 18. Again, I'm going to bring the weather into the equation. If it's blowing, somebody will have to really play well. If it's not blowing, they still have to play well (smiling).

You know, if it's blowing, it's a different ballgame. You really have to play golf then. When it's calm like this, you can have a bit of a go, you know. When your putter gets hot, can you start shooting low numbers again.

Let's wait and see how it turns out weather-wise tomorrow. The other guys will have to shoot very low tomorrow.

Q. You've been playing well for three months, four months, fall.

ERNIE ELS: Since Ben came around, I've been playing good again (laughter). I didn't play a very good TOUR Championship. Other than that, I had a good matchplay, and obviously Sun City, I know that course very well. I played really good there. I've been playing pretty good. It's nice to play good with new sticks.

Q. You didn't have any adjustment period.

ERNIE ELS: No, not really. I basically just got into the set this year. Stevie came down to South Africa, helped me a little bit with my clubs, the setup, the weight and everything. We just kind of got going pretty quickly. I felt good from the get-go.

Q. Do you see an advantage, the fact that you know this course very well, tomorrow with a two-shot lead?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I like that. It's always nice to know you've played a golf course well, under pressure. I've had some good tournaments here on this golf course. You know, we've had some different -- although it didn't blow very hard, we've had some different wind directions this week. I think I've played the course in just about any condition.

But, you know, you've just got to go out there and do it. I mean, K.J. is playing well, Retief is playing well. Tomorrow is another day.

TODD BUDNICK: Go through your card.

ERNIE ELS: I hit a 6-iron on two to about eight feet. I hit a driver and a sand iron on three to about 16 feet, made that.

4, I hit a 3-wood and an 8-iron to about 15 feet.

5, I hit a driver and 7-iron, 2-putted from about 38 feet.

9, I hit it through the fairway into the rough. Hit a 5-iron from there short of the green about 50 yards. I hit it to about 10 feet.

11, I hit a 9-iron to about 18 feet.

14, I hit a driver, you know, left of the green. I mean, that was the shot of the tournament for me. It was just over the bunker, into the hole.

15 was a driver and 8-iron, 2-putted from about 25 feet.

16, I hit a driver and a pitch from about 60 yards to a tap-in.

17, I hit 3-wood into the -- the last putt was about 10 feet.

Q. The last putt on 18?

ERNIE ELS: 18, second putt was 10 feet.

Q. How far was that first putt on 18?

ERNIE ELS: Must have been I think about 110 feet (laughter).

Q. The Top 3 names on the leaderboard are all international players. You and Retief, of course, have been around for a long time. K.J. Choi coming onto the scene. The Top 3 names on the leaderboard going into the final round, what does that say about the international state of the game?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's pretty healthy. Again, we've got to say thanks to the PGA TOUR. We've been playing over here for a long time. I've been over here almost 10 years now. I could see my game really improving, playing with the best players in the world. I think that's why Retief is a major player, too, now. He's been playing full-time over here since last year. He's learned a lot. The same with K.J. I think he got his card three or four years ago and has steadily improved.

I think the competition over here is so strong that you have to improve every year to get better. I think playing on golf courses manicured the way you have it over here helps a lot.

I think there's a lot of factors that made us better players.

Q. You talked the last couple days about the course not owing you anything or the tournament because of what happened in the past. Is that incentive or something you don't want to think about at all?

ERNIE ELS: I haven't really given it too much thought. I've just been kind of trying to get into my process every day. You know, if you think back, I had some good tournaments. I said yesterday, guys outplayed me down the stretch the last couple times.

You can just go out there and try again. That's what I'm going to do tomorrow. Maybe it comes my way tomorrow. I'm feeling pretty good about tomorrow.

Q. How good a shape is this course in? Is it the best you've seen it?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think the fairways have been running a little bit more this year. The greens are running beautiful. You know, they've got grain. That's what you have to read into your breaks. But they're very smooth. You know, they're not bouncing around all over the place.

Yeah, I think the course is always in good shape. It's very good shape again this year.

End of FastScripts....

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