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March 21, 2003

Ernie Els


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you for joining us for a few minutes.

Great start this morning with four straight birdies. When the delay came, I guess you were on the fifth tee box getting ready to tee off. Why don't you just talk about your round and the conditions today, the delay and then we'll go into questions.

ERNIE ELS: Well, it was totally different this morning when we started from yesterday afternoon, obviously. I mean, it wasn't as soft as it is right now but it was a lot softer this morning at 8:00 when we started.

You know, you can play a little bit more aggressive shots and maybe go for your shots a little bit more than you could yesterday.

Even though I didn't score very well yesterday, I felt I was swinging the club pretty well. I just made some errors around the greens.

So, I just warmed up nicely this morning and just wanted to get off to a good start, which I did. You don't plan to make four birdies in a row from the first hole, but I just hit the shots in the right places and made some good putts and off I went.

Then, as you say, the rain delay was there. I think it was about a three- or four-hour rain delay. I just went out again, and it's beautiful out there now. It's perfect scoring conditions for the guys. I was happy enough to make a couple of birdies coming into the house and posted a pretty nice number. You know, we've got the tough end of the draw this week. Playing yesterday afternoon in those conditions and then spending all day at the golf course today, I just think that the guys playing yesterday morning are going to get another morning round in again. So, we got the tough end of the draw, but it happens. You can't always get it the right way.

I'm happy with the way I played and hopefully I'll have half a chance over the weekend.

Q. You made some long putts and you hit it close, you got up-and-down, I guess five times, you did a little bit of everything today, didn't you?

ERNIE ELS: Well, a couple of the greens, I missed by a couple of inches, really. I made a really good save on 16 this morning. I hit it in the right trees. I couldn't get it out. I hit a 4-iron for my third shot through the green and that was a really good up-and-down. The next hole, 17, I hit it just through the green again and made a good up-and-down there.

Other than that, the rest of them were just off the greens and I wasn't really in a lot of trouble.

Q. But today was a day where you did a little bit of everything out there, didn't you, some long putts, hit it close, you had a lot working for you today?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, shooting 65, you've got a lot going for you. (Laughter.) As I say, first four holes this morning, I hit it in the right spots and made -- the first putt I made was about a 40-footer. The next three were inside ten feet.

On the back nine, I birdied No. 3, which is my 12th hole from about 25 feet.

Birdied 6, where I hit my second shot just short of the green and putted up to about seven feet.

Then I made about an 18-footer on 7, my 16th.

Q. A lot of fans are looking forward to seeing you and Tiger going down the stretch. How important is it for you to have something like that happen or is it too early in the year to really worry about it?

ERNIE ELS: You know, as you say, it will be great for the fans, for you guys. Myself, I mean and for Tiger, speaking for myself, I just want to try and get better. That's what I've said to you guys early in the year already and that's my goal. I want to get better.

I think if I get better to the level I want to play at, I'm going to play a lot with Tiger, because he's on that level. If I want to get somewhere in my golf career, I've got to start making a lot of sacrifices and then be ready to play golf tournaments when I'm fully prepared. That's been my goal. If that means I'm going to play a lot more with Tiger, it will be great.

Q. Playing with him would make you better, do you think?

ERNIE ELS: Who knows. You know, we've played together for the last six or seven years. He's definitely gotten better. (Laughter.) And I've had my moments.

I feel like I'm playing good at the moment, and just got to go out there and play the golf course. I cannot play Tiger Woods. I can't control what he does.

Q. How did you regain your focus today, after a four-hour layoff, to finally get back out there, is that difficult for you?

ERNIE ELS: No, not really. We do it so many times on TOUR. It almost happens every other week. You've just got to go through the routine, really. You go, get something to eat, hang out with the guys in the locker room, listen to some stories we've all told ten times over. (Laughter.)

You know, it's just a lot of fun. We talk a lot of nonsense out there. It's a way of switching off, and then when the rules officials come in, they normally give us about an hour and then you switch on again. We've all done it so many times. You just cope with it and deal with it.

Q. Tiger says when he's in contention he doesn't worry about who else is in contention until like the back nine on Sunday. Is that the way you look at it, too?

ERNIE ELS: I think that's the perfect formula, isn't it. If you look at his record, the rest of us, I've got a pretty good record, but obviously nothing like his. If that's what he says, that's probably the way to go.

I truly believe that it's you and the golf course. If you are good enough on the day, you'll win. I think Tiger just putts himself in that position and he has proved that.

Q. Will you even pay attention to who is at the top of the leaderboard until you get here tomorrow?

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I'll have a look at the leaderboard and see the kind of players that are going to be leading. I always like to look at leaderboards even through the round to see where you're going.

As I say, you've still got to go out there and play your game, play the golf course and do the best you can.

Q. Being in contention every week, is that more fun than it is a grind? Is there any negatives to this roll that you're on?

ERNIE ELS: No. (Laughter.) Not at all. Believe me, I've been on the other side of the food chain myself and it's not a lot of fun. I've done a lot of travelling and all of that, but as I've said to you before, I want to be ready when the tournaments come around and play my best.

Q. How much of a benefit is it tomorrow not to have to get up at 5:00 in the morning and tee it up at 7:00?

ERNIE ELS: It will be nice. (Smiling).

I've just come from London -- Dubai and then London. I like coming west if I do a time change. That makes me get up early in the morning. So it wasn't too tough getting up early this morning. But it will be really great to sleep in and just chill out at the house a little bit.

Q. How much do you sleep in a given night because with all of that traveling I'm wondering how your body clock -- can you get by on five hours or do you need eight hours?

ERNIE ELS: I need at least -- at least seven. I get that. As I say, when I come west, I get to sleep early and I wake up early. But that's fine because you get things done earlier. I started practicing early in the mornings and kind of got a short, early afternoon.

But going the other way is my tough one when I go back to London.

Q. Do you set your watch to local time or do you change it? You went to like Hawaii, Australia, Hawaii, Bali, Hawaii, Singapore, Hawaii, San Diego, England, the desert, back to England, here, right --

ERNIE ELS: Very good. You know, I didn't play all those weeks. When I went to Bali, it was a week off with the family and we had a great time. I had another week off in Hawaii and another week off -- well I lost the first round of match-play and so I had that week off. I had the week off last week in London.

I've had my weeks off, although it has been all over the world. But I put my clock to where I go before I get there, and work accordingly, as soon as possible.

Q. If you'll permit me, next week, aside of the majors you have won, where do you rank next week in your importance? And you've had a couple of times when you've played that well and some times when you haven't?

ERNIE ELS: Next week's tournament?

Q. Yeah.

ERNIE ELS: I've kind of got a love/hate relationship with that golf course. As you say I've played it really good a couple of times. I've had a couple of Top-15 finishes or Top-20s which is reasonable. I've also missed the cut a couple of times and shot some high numbers. That's basically the golf course, really.

This golf course, I really enjoy. It gives me room. I can go out there and play my shots.

Next week, sometimes you just feel a little claustrophobic, just the golf course. It's so narrow, small greens. With the high rough, it's almost the toughest -- it can play as the toughest tournament of the year. When the winds come in and you're not quite on your game, it can be a very, very difficult golf course. But when you're on your game and you're striking it well, you can feed it off the slopes to some of the holes and you can have some fun there.

So I'm either this side of the scale or I'm totally the other side. We'll just wait and see. They are the four majors, those are the most important. Obviously THE PLAYERS Championship is our championship, the TOUR runs it. We kind of have a little bit of a say in it. It's the best-run golf tournament of the year, let's put it that way. But it's not a major. Never will be.

Q. Why would you feel claustrophobic from somebody who has had great success in the U.S. Open?

ERNIE ELS: That's just the way it is sometimes. U.S. Opens, I don't know, it's hard to explain. We play old, traditional golf courses in the U.S. Opens. I just love that way of golf.

You know, TPC, when it goes bad, it can really go south on you. It can make you look very bad at times. There's some real risky shots involved. But U.S. Opens, you just go with what you have, what the golf course gives you. Sometimes TPC just doesn't work that way.

Q. You said you had been on the other end of the food chain, and that sounds similar to what David Duval is talking about, experiencing the highs in the past and right now he's going through the lows. Do you have any sympathy you can offer towards that? How good of friends are you with David? Any advice or anything that you can say to him?

ERNIE ELS: You know, that's golf, and life and golf, it goes hand in hand. Your personal life, I mean, he's had some injury problems in the last couple of years with his wrist and his back, and now I'm not sure what he's got right now. It really affects your game.

You've got to be physically ready to play this game. If you're not, it's going to -- you're not going to hit the shots that you want to hit and it's going to affect your ability to play the way you want to play and eventually your confidence goes a little bit.

We know, and he knows, what a great player he is. He's won so many times on the Tour and around the world. We all go through those slumps. We all have been through there and if you haven't been through it, you will go through it. There's just no way of ducking that in our game.

He will get through it because he's got so much talent and he's a great guy. He doesn't hang his head. He's coming out to play in tournaments not being 100% fit, so it says a lot for him.

Q. What are some things he can that he can do?

ERNIE ELS: First of all, he's got to get healthy and take it from there. Some people like to play through it. Sometimes when I'm in a bit of a slump, I like to play through it and other times I just take time off.

I remember one year after the Masters, I shot 80 in the final round. I just felt I needed time off and took five weeks off. I came back and I was a different player again.

Q. Back to next week at THE PLAYERS. Is part of what makes that tournament what it is the fact that, I guess next to Augusta, the spectators, it's probably the course that everybody knows the best, is that part of the personality of that tournament?

ERNIE ELS: Definitely. They almost let too many people in there. It's like a football crowd. There's so many people there. It's true stadium golf; put it that way. I don't think there's a tournament like that on the Tour spectator-wise. I think the closest one to it is maybe the U.S. Open last year. They get pretty fired up.

The college kids take the week off if they don't have the week off and Spring Break and all of that stuff. It gets quite wild out there.

Q. You said earlier that in order to get to the level that you are trying to get to, you have to make some sacrifices. What sacrifices have you made and when will you decide whether or not they are worth it?

ERNIE ELS: Well, you sacrifice your time, a lot of time. You've got to put in the time to get to the next level. It doesn't just happen. You know, you get the help that you need. I've got the help from Leadbetter. I've got the help from Jos, I've got the help from Ricci and obviously my wife. But you sacrifice your time away from your home, where you actually really want to be, to get where you want to go to your career.

I'm in a situation now where my little girl is going to school next year. We've decided to do that in London and I'm going to play a lot of golf in the United States. So, it's quite a lot of -- there's quite a lot that goes into your decision if you want to go flat-out. I've made that decision and my wife is with me, my family is behind me, I've got other people behind me. You know, who knows, when I'm done, I'll tell you if it was worth it. But I think it will be worth it.

Q. You said last year that there were times when you practiced hard but may not have practiced correctly, but now you are maximizing your practice time. What changes did you make to focus on what you need to do?

ERNIE ELS: Just making sure in your own mind what you really want to work on, not just going out there just to hit balls.

When I feel like I'm swinging well, I might just go out there to totally work on my lines, just really get my fundamentals right. When a stroke is there, I might just hit balls for 20 minutes, but keep working on my short game.

I think my putting has come around a little bit in the last six months or so, so I just keep working on my short game. Your short game has to be 100%.

When things feel good, you know, then don't beat yourself up too much. I don't have to be out there all day.

Q. Yesterday, obviously, was not what you wanted; would the Ernie Els of two years ago have been able to come back as well today as you did today?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yes and no. I've done it before. Let's call it the old guy -- yeah, I've done that before. But I've also gone the other way a lot more times.

I feel that I would not say it's getting easier, but I'm not as hard on myself as I used to be. I think that's a major factor at the most. Hopefully it stays that way.

Again, maybe it's family life, maybe I'm getting older, maybe I've got more experience, but it's not life-and-death anymore. There's always a next week.

JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Ernie.

End of FastScripts....

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