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March 18, 2003

Ernie Els


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Ernie, for joining us for a few minutes in the media center at the Bay Hill Invitational.

I'm sure it's great to be back in Florida. You arrived on Saturday, and it is probably good to be playing another stroke-play event here in the United States.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's good. The last time I played a stroke-play event was in January, so it's nice to be back and nice to stay at home this week.

Unfortunately my family is not here, so I've got Ricci staying with me and he's doing all the cooking this week.

It's good to be back and I haven't played the course yet this week. So I'll go out this afternoon and play the Pro-Am and see what it's all about. You know, we'll take it from there. It's definitely nice to be back in nice weather. I was in London last week and was pretty chilly there.

Q. What are your memories from that round you played, it was a Sunday but I guess they had 36 holes the year you won, I think it was Tiger, you and Davis in the morning, how you played and how Tiger played because everybody is looking at you this two week for obvious reasons.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think back in '98, that was, and yeah, we had bad weather that whole week. We had to play 36 on Sunday, and playing with Davis and Tiger. We all knew it was just going to be a long day to play 36 holes around Bay Hill, that's a long walk.

I really had a good morning round. I really played well, putted very well that morning, I remember, and I probably won the tournament that morning. I shot 65. It was kind of windy in the morning, quite cold still. The other guys -- I can't really remember how the other guys went, but I know I had a nice lead by Sunday afternoon.

And then I think everybody kind of got tired on the back nine that afternoon. But I hung in there and I think I won by a couple, two or three. That was obviously a nice day, nice week. I don't think I've ever won in March in the United States, so it was good.

Q. You hurt your wrist and how did you do it again and is it affecting you at all?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I came in Saturday, as you said just to get over my jet lag and practice a little bit. Because in London, I'm not too used to that cold weather, so I didn't do too much practicing.

On Thursday -- you're going to laugh now. I've got this punching bag in London in my garage, and I was thinking of taking some frustration out on the punching bag, but I'm not a pro. So I kind of twisted my wrist a little bit.

I've had some treatment on it and it really feels good today so I think I'll be playing 18 this afternoon and then, you know, maybe play nine holes tomorrow. But I think I'll be fine now by Thursday.

I was a little worried about it.

Q. Did it have Tiger's face painted on it?

ERNIE ELS: No, just something I've been doing for a while now. As I say, I'm not a pro. I've got to probably strap my wrists next time.

Q. You said you were taking out your frustrations, what are you frustrated about?

ERNIE ELS: It's just a method of speech. You know, it's kind of just another way of having a little bit of a work out and having some fun. I'll probably, as I say, probably strap my wrists next time.

Q. Right wrist?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's the right one, just under the thumb.

I've had the treatment on it and it's a lot better. I mean, I can move it around. I hit some balls yesterday afternoon at Lake Nona, so it should be okay.

Q. Because so much time has now elapsed since your two wins here and Tiger winning and all, has this quote unquote "showdown" kind of lost a little bit of the drama that it might have had a few weeks ago, do you think?

ERNIE ELS: I don't know. You guys tell me. (Laughing).

I'm just out here. I've traveled a lot this year and I've had a lot of fun playing golf this year.

Obviously, Tiger has been out with his knee injury and came back like a champion that he is. He came back and won his first event. Then he won again at The Match Play. So to you guys and to myself, that wasn't too unexpected. The guy is a true champion. He doesn't want to let go of the gap he's got on us.

I just think coming in here this week, I really enjoy playing here, I think this is one of my favorite events, obviously, because of staying at home and the length of the golf course helps the long hitter.

So I'm just excited play this week, obviously. To have a field like this with Tiger in it, you know, really enhances it a little bit more, for myself, also. I'd like to go out there and do what I've been doing. Just try and swing the club well, and think nice and think well and just go out and enjoy it and see what happens.

Q. Do you have the same confidence you had a month ago?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think so. I think I've been playing pretty solidly now for a good six, seven, eight months now. You know, it's something that I like doing right now is going out there to play. I'm excited about it. I think if I keep this attitude up, why not. I'm feeling good about it.

Q. What is a bigger toll, traveling or playing late on Sunday afternoon so often?

ERNIE ELS: I think a little bit of both. I think probably more the traveling, obviously. Going through different time zones all the time, that takes it out of you a little bit. You know, when I left the Match Play, there was a journalist there that through all the way to Dubai and we had an interview there and he was kind of out of it. (Laughter.)

I just kind of laughed at him, because we do that the whole year and he did that one trip. I think you get more and more used to it when you do it a lot like we do. It still takes its toll, probably.

But saying that, like I said to the guys in Dubai, it seems like I've done a lot of traveling, which I have done. I've had my weeks off in between a lot of the events, so I've had my family with me which is great, also, which makes it easier.

Q. Are you fresh, do you think, right now or does it feel like later in the year than it really is?

ERNIE ELS: No, I'm fine. I'm not doing much now, much traveling until the end of the year again. I've got maybe just a couple of trips across to London after the Masters. But no huge, long hauls any more until late in the year, and maybe the way things are going now, I might not even do those trips anymore.

So I think I'm done for the year.

Q. You always give Tiger his due, but how hard is it to imagine winning a tournament four times in a row, does it get easier each time you do it or do the odds get higher?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I've never had that opportunity, but I think after doing it three times, I think it gets easier. What would you think? I guess you just go on remote control. You know what you've done the year before, you hit it in the same position. From there, you take the same line as you did probably the previous year and you know the greens very well.

I think what Tiger does a lot better than us, he just knows what he's doing. He does his thing on the golf course and he sticks with his guns. Then he waits.

Sometimes when he has to do the chase, you know, he does the right thing, like he did last year, making that putt on 18, or the year before. He made a nice putt on 18 which everybody missed and he made it. He's got the knack of doing that and obviously got the talent. We'll see.

Q. With the kind of schedule and results that you have, do you have any doubts that you were maybe taking too much out of yourself before this swing starts leading into the Masters?

ERNIE ELS: Not really. Last year I didn't do the Hawaiian trip, only because I didn't get into the tournament.

I've always done this kind of a schedule before the March swing starts. So I have played the West Coast maybe once or twice way back but I've always gone to the Johnnie Walker Classic, to the Heineken Classic and to Dubai. It's just been kind of normal for me.

Q. Scott Hoch was saying that you are basically two strokes from being undefeated in stroke-play. That's almost incomprehensible.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it would have been nice if I could have won those two. It would have been a really nice streak if you want to call it that.

Didn't work out that way. Two weeks ago in Dubai, the greens were really very firm and what the guy shot there, 65, was really good. I felt that before the round started, to shoot something in the 60s I thought would be more than enough because the conditions really got quite tough. You know, he (Derksen) just played a great round.

Singapore, I didn't quite have my putting touch with me that week so that cost me those two. But I've enjoyed myself, as I've said and I've enjoyed the golf courses I've played.

Q. In '98 on the last day when you played with Woods and Love, you were not a short hitter but you were not the longest hitter in that group. Now you are the longest hitter in every group you play in. How does that change a golf course for you, to hit from places?

ERNIE ELS: Strange enough, that week I didn't drive the ball very well. My timing was a bit out. But my putting touch was phenomenal that week, my short game, and that really got me through.

I felt almost like, no disrespect, but I felt almost like Corey Pavin in that group. (Laughter.) I was sometimes 30, 40 yards behind. They took lines -- like on 15, over the side there, and sit hitting sand wedges in and I was like a little petition shooting to the safe sides and playing a very percentage game. Strange enough, I wasn't totally on my game that week. But I managed my game very well and I putted exceptionally well that week. So that was good. Now, you know, I've been swinging really well and obviously, as you all know, the new ball I'm using, the driver I'm using, it's really blending into my game very well.

So hitting a lot further than I hit it back then. But still, you've got to keep it in the fairway and still score. But if you can drive the ball well and putt well, you're normally going to have a good week.

Q. You've touched on this, but having played as well as you have for as long as you have now, do you feel like you're riding a hot streak or do you feel that your expectations now are higher than they were a year ago at this time? Do you expect more from yourself?

ERNIE ELS: I think a little bit of both. I think obviously playing the way I have been playing, it gives you a lot of confidence and makes you feel good about your game. You want to keep doing that.

But on the other hand, I think my expectations have risen a little bit in the last year or two, and I just feel that if I don't step up now, I probably will never. I'm at a time of my career where, you know, I've got to really go for it or I'm not going to do it at all.

That's kind of my mind set at the moment. Just kind of go all-out for a while and see what happens. That's kind of where we are. I think I probably have stepped up a little bit, but, you know, I want to get better.

Q. How long is "a while?" When you say this is the time for you to go for it and give it a shot for a while, how long does "a while" last?

ERNIE ELS: I'm not sure. Until the desire is gone, I think. I think right now, my desire for the game and for what I'm doing is as strong as it's ever been. Let's see when it kind of dies away and I'll go to the Bahamas or something. (Laughter.)

Q. Can you see it from our perspective? We're looking for a rivalry, we have been looking for a rivalry for a long time, as you know, but can you see that from our point of view?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I do. I've been seeing it for a while now, you know. (Laughter.) Since '97. When did Tiger win his first? '97?

It's been on and off, you know, hasn't it. I think '97 was me and then a little bit of '98. Then I had some problems with my swing and back and everything, and I kind of went away, and I think David Duval stepped in and some other players also stepped in. But the real head-to-head rivalry like maybe Nicklaus and Watson and even Weiskopf and Johnny Miller and those type of people, I think we've got that group. Yeah, we've just got a guy that's so much better.

I keep on saying it, but I'm just being honest. For me to get better, which I want to do, I've got to set myself some new goals and really loftier standards and that's what I've been trying to do and let's see where we go.

For me, I cannot think about what you guys are thinking about because that won't help my game. I've got to keep plugging away and working on my game and keep working on things that make me better and see what happens. I cannot think about Tiger when I'm on the golf course. I've got to think about my next shot and that's what I've been trying to do.

Q. Can you talk about this tournament gets bigger and better every year, talk about Arnold and Jack being in the field?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think that's great. It's really great to see Jack playing again. And especially at Arnold Palmer's golf tournament. I'm sure Arnold will go play in Jack Nicklaus's tournament, and I think that's great. I think obviously those two players and some other players, especially those two players, really elevated the game and brought in all of their attention and made the game, professional game, what it is today. So it's great to have those two legends playing in the same event.

Q. When look back, do you think the British Open is what pushed you over the top or was it just the whole second half of last year that has given you that confidence?

ERNIE ELS: I think I had a good year until the British Open. I won a couple of times early on. But the British Open really made the whole difference. It made the whole turnaround possible. I said it to you guys before, if it didn't happen, I think I would have been a different player right now.

But, it went my way, with a little bit of luck and good fortune. You know, it kind of pushed me to go in a very positive manner. I think it's had a great deal to do with the success I've had.

Q. Was it because of the way you've played in the third round during the weather and just the coming back after the last day when you had fallen behind?

ERNIE ELS: I think both of that. I think you're right. I think the Saturday round was a survival course, as you all know. It was the toughest conditions I've ever seen at the Open. Our group, we got a break the last five, six holes, it started dying down a little bit and I think I made three or four birdies coming in, so I saved my round there.

Then, obviously, Sunday, making those mistakes down the stretch, and then to get through the playoff and to sudden death, to get through all of that, was also obviously the difference.

As I say, that whole tournament changed my whole -- probably my whole career again.

Q. Did you even see Tiger at La Costa?

ERNIE ELS: No. We never got -- I never got to shake his hand or anything. I walked onto the range and he was way on the left side of the range, so, no, we didn't see each other.

Q. How much do the prospects of war weigh on your mind, especially as a world traveler?

ERNIE ELS: Well, the world is really changing a lot at the moment. World traveling for myself, like I said earlier, I don't think I'm going to be traveling like I have been, definitely not now, not in a couple of days, anyway. So it's really going to change a lot of things. We will have to be watching that situation very carefully.

I think traveling to Asia now, anywhere in the world right now, is quite a risk. So we'll have to really see what we're doing. I don't think I'll be doing a lot of this -- at all, the traveling I have been doing the first three months I will not be doing that probably in the next couple of years.

Q. In May, don't you usually go over there?

ERNIE ELS: Like I said, I might go across to London and so forth, but I will not be going to Asia or anywhere close to the Middle East. We'll just be watching and seeing what's going on in the next couple of months.

Q. I know this is way down the road but do you worry about what effect this might have on Fan Court?

ERNIE ELS: I haven't given it much thought but it might well have an effect on the Presidents Cup. You guys have been through this in '91, 1991, and it's a very tense situation. You've probably got to be a bit more careful now.

Let's wait and see what happens. But Fan Court is at least another six months away, so we've got some time on our hands. Probably, if it keeps going like this, it probably will have an effect.

Q. Early in the year when Tiger was hurt and you were playing well, there was a lot of talk about the gap between 1 and 2, where it's shrinking between Tiger and the rest of the field and now that he's back, he's so much better. Where do you think the gap stands now and has it gotten any closer?

ERNIE ELS: I think in some ways it has. I've gone around the world and I've won around the world and won in the United States.

The more you win, I think the more you close the gap a little bit. You know, he's come out and he's won himself. So it's hard to say. I know his big goals are to win majors and so are mine, so I think that's probably where it will really happen.

In regular tour events, if you're on your game you can go flat-out, but leading up to the Masters, you're tinkering with your game a little bit here and there and you're working on some shots. Although you want to win, it's the majors where it's all where you're going to hang everything out.

So I think that's really where you're going to probably measure the gap closing or not.

Q. If that gap is closed here when he goes to Augusta, does the gap close there, too, or is he still on a wider gap because of the golf course?

ERNIE ELS: I think with my new length out there and other guys, like Phil, and David Toms even, you've still got to be accurate around Augusta. Obviously, to have won the tournament, you've got a major advantage because you've crossed that little hill and you know how to win the Masters. That's a huge difference, where I've come close a couple of times but I've made my mistakes. I think Tiger has crossed that little fear factor. He's won it three times now and he knows how to do it.

So it will be still a little bit more difficult for us to win the Masters than Tiger because he's got a lot more confidence around the course and he knows the course a bit better.

I really like playing there. I've got a good record there. I know where my mistakes have been in the past and I've just got to overcome them.

Q. You said earlier that you want to get better, continue to get better. Is that continuation to getting better results-oriented only or is there something more to it?

ERNIE ELS: I think both. I have been working hard on the mental side of the game throughout the year and even last year. I think there's been a lot of gains some weeks and then I've made some mistakes other weeks, but in the whole, I think I've become a little bit more positive in that regard.

My technical side of my game, my swing, I keep on working on certain things and with the help of Ricci and David Leadbetter, think I'm getting better there, too.

I think working on the technical and mental side gives you the results that you need. I think it's a very good question. I think if you work on the stuff away from the golf course, it makes you better on the golf course.

JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Ernie, for joining us.

End of FastScripts....

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