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An Interview With: Ernie Els

JULIUS MASON: Ernie Els, ladies and gentlemen, in also at 6-under. Ernie, some immediate thoughts on your round, we'll go through your card and we'll go to Q & A, please.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm happy with that, obviously. I wasn't sure what to expect scoring-wise today because the practice rounds were pretty difficult.

But the breeze wasn't as strong as yesterday and it blew from a different direction. It actually started and then changed to the northeasterly, and it made the par 5s, a couple of the par 5s, play downwind, and I could get there quite easily. You know, I hit the ball well. I drove it well. That was the key today.

I hit one bad drive on 10. But I made some good putts. I made some putts from inside of eight feet, and that was obviously another key for me.

So, yeah, I'm really happy with that. I'm not sure if we expected to shoot 6-under around this course, but that was nice.

JULIUS MASON: Let's talk about your birdies.

ERNIE ELS: I started on the 10th hole and I birdied my second on the par 5, 11. I laid up out of the left rough to about 110 yards and hit it close there to about seven feet and made that.

On 12, I hit an 8-iron to about three feet and made that.

13 I bogeyed. I hit driver just in the left rough. Hit it just through the green and I didn't play a very good shot there. I hit it about seven, eight feet past the hole and missed the putt.

15, I hit a good drive and a 9-iron to about eight feet, made that.

16, I hit a driver and a 5-iron just right of the green and pitched it up to about seven, eight feet again and made that.

17, I hit a 7-iron and had about a 50-footer there for birdie.

I made the turn at 4-under and made a great save on the 1st, on my 10th hole. I hit it way right and hacked it up short of the green, got it onto the green and made a good 18- or 20-footer for par.

On 2, I hit a drive, 6-iron and 2-putted from about 45 feet.

3 was a 9-iron to about five feet. Made that for birdie.

Then I had a couple of chances coming in, but I parred all the way back in.

Q. You had three birdies on the par 3s, which are definitely not the easiest holes out here. I imagine you have to be real happy with that, and you probably picked up a shot and a half on the field at least, just on those holes.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I played them well. I hit every green except for 8 when I pulled it left with a 5-iron.

Yeah, you know, flags were accessible, especially on 3 and on 12. They didn't put them where they could put them. I made some nice putts.

17 was another one, it's downwind. The par 3s played a little easier.

Q. Is this a case of the course not being as tough as everybody made it out to be, or you and the other guys who are atop the leaderboard are just playing very well today?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's a very tough golf course. But as I said yesterday or Tuesday when I was in here, you know, if we have decent weather, we can play. We can play this course.

This morning, it wasn't blowing as hard as it did in the practice rounds. The direction of the breeze changed. As I said, it made some of the par 3s and par 5s play a little bit easier, and so, you know, if we have decent conditions, we can score. It's a great layout. It's a very tough layout. But I just felt that we had a break today in the weather.

Q. You talked about, they have some generous pin placements today, and they also moved a few tee boxes up a little bit. Do you think they heard the concerns of the players that the course might be a little bit too tough and tried to soften it a little for you guys?

ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, I think that they did well. It was a fair setup. If you're going to play this golf course off the tips the first two rounds with such a big field and we have bad weather, you know, you're going to have a hard time finishing in, I think, 5, 5 1/2 hours. I think they did the correct thing.

As I say, the wind dropped a little bit and it changed direction. But, I mean, if you look at 18, the way we played it in the practice rounds with the wind straight into us, it was hard for myself just to reach the fairway off the back tee. So, you know, that's very tough.

So I think they did the right thing. There's a lot of teeth still left in this golf course. They can stretch it out and make it really very tough, but for the first or second round, to get the field moving, I think they did the right thing.

Q. Just by way of example, what did you hit on 18 today, and some of the other maybe club differences between practice round and today?

ERNIE ELS: Well, 18 was a good one. I hit 3-wood through the fairway and an 8-iron to the green. In the practice round on Tuesday, from the back tee I hit driver and 3-wood to the front right section of the green. I couldn't even carry that ravine to the middle of the green.

Another one is 2. 2 was downwind today. I had 6-iron in there. I just played it as a three-shotter in the practice rounds.

3 is another one. Today it was a 9-iron; practice round was a 4-iron.

No. 4 was a 3-wood, 9-iron today, and practice rounds it was a driver, 3-iron. So, you know, just that was a change.

No. 8 was a 5-iron, where in practice rounds it was a 7-iron.

I mean, it's such a good layout, whatever breeze you're going to get, it's going to be a good golf course.

Q. You said you hit the 3-wood through the fairway on 18. Does it bug you that you can hit a striper right down the middle and still end up in the rough because of that hole design?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'd rather take it through the fairway than the rough, as close as you can get it to the end of the fairway; that's not bad. I think it's a good design. Downwind, you've got to lay it up short of that ravine, and into the wind you can't get through it. So it's a fine design. You've got to be conservative kind of downwind and you've got to be very aggressive into the breeze.

Q. When you have such a big club difference playing one day and then playing the other day, do you work that out on the practice tee or do you just figure it out as you're going?

ERNIE ELS: No, you've just got to figure it out as you're going. That's why, as I said, it's so different; it can be different every day. Even with the day's round, the wind changed, it went from the northwest to the northeast, so you've just got to go with what nature gives you, kind of, you know.

Every hole is a different hole, every shot is different, so you've just got to adapt all the time.

Q. You've obviously talked a lot about the disappointment after Troon. Just wondering how anxious were you to start, and did you place any extra emphasis on getting off to a good start this week given that?

ERNIE ELS: Well, as I said on Tuesday, you know, it's kind of a funny year. I had a chance to win all three and it didn't happen. As I said, you know, the Masters wasn't too bad. The Open was a little worse, you know.

I'm fine. I'm just going along, you know. I can't bring back what happened, and although I think about it every now and again, it's done, it's history. I can't do anything about it. I've got another chance this week and I'm excited about that.

Q. Take that question into a round of golf. You always appear very level emotionally on the golf course. When you have a good round like today, how much internally are you sort of ramped up because of the way you're playing, or if things are going against you, how much do you feel down on the golf course, because it doesn't seem to show outwardly.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm glad about that (laughter).

No, I think people close to me know what I'm thinking, especially Ricci, and after the round, I speak to my wife a lot and with Jos. So I think those people really know what I'm thinking, and I think that's enough, you know (laughing). That's enough people to know.

You know, I think I'm not very different from other players. I feel the disappointment when I hit a bad shot and I get angry and all of that stuff. But I guess I don't show it as much as other people, as you say. It's kind of a hard question to answer, but I do feel the emotions.

Q. You said that you just have to move on because you continue to play so well in the majors. When you post a score such as you did today, though, it is day one; how much does it do for your confidence as you look ahead to tomorrow and beyond?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it's a good start. There's a lot of guys that have played well; Darren's played well, Justin's played well, Padraig, there's a lot of guys in there. And all of that will filter out as the week goes along.

I would just like to be in the mix, once again. That's all I can ask for. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing. At least my putter came around a little bit, so that's a positive sign. I'm still driving it well. I'm playing within myself.

So today was a good day. I can learn from what I've done today, and I've got to keep that going.

JULIUS MASON: Ernie Els, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.

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