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An Interview With: Ernie Els

JULIUS MASON: Ernie Els, ladies and gentlemen, in at 8-under after the second round.

Ernie, some thoughts on the round today. We'll go over your card and go to Q&A.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm happy with 8-under par on this golf course through two rounds. But, you know, I played 16 pretty bad. I made bogey there, and it's probably the easiest hole on the golf course, which probably cost me a shot or two.

Other than that, I had a pretty good day. I didn't drive it all that well, though not as good as yesterday. It only cost me a couple of shots maybe.

I'm still in it. I'm 8-under par and looking forward to the weekend.

JULIUS MASON: Let's talk about your birdies and your bogeys, please.

ERNIE ELS: I birdied the first hole. I hit in the left rough and hit a sand iron out there to about 25 feet and holed it for birdie.

No. 3 was a 7-iron and about 25 to 30 feet again for birdie.

No. 5, I hit a drive and a 3-wood just short of the green, and I pitched it up there to about four feet. Made that for birdie.

10, I hit it just in the right rough and I hit a sand iron to about eight feet. Made that for birdie.

11 was a bogey. I drove it left in the rough. I got it out pretty well. Hit in a stiff breeze, I hit a 5-iron and came up just short of the green and kind of released back short of the green even further, and I pitched it up about ten feet and missed it for par.

Then 16, I hit a 3-wood off the tee and hit it left. I had a really good lie in the rough. That was probably the biggest mistake I've made this week. I tried to hit a second shot onto the green and pulled it way left, almost in the lake on the left, and I just messed it up like 16. And I parred the last two holes.

Q. Earlier today Phil Mickelson said he wishes for the weekend that the PGA would make the course tougher than what it is. Do you feel that same way or do you like it the way it is or would you like it tougher than what it is? He thinks maybe it's a little bit too easy right now.

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think today they played most of the tees from the back. They had some really good flags today. I think the golf course is tough and fair at the moment. The only way it's going to get tough is if the wind really picks up and blows 25.

I think to make the course tougher might make it a little bit unfair here and there. You can put flags where a guy is going to look foolish.

I think the course, the way they are setting it up at the moment, it's tough, it was tougher today, and very fair.

Q. Just wondering, would you have thought you could hit only five fairways on this course earlier in the week and still shoot 70?

ERNIE ELS: Well, I think you're not going to hit too many fairways on this golf course. There's a lot of angles that you're going to come into. As long as you don't really hit into the really hairy stuff, I think you might be okay.

I've never been a stats man. I've won the British Open hitting probably less fairways than that. So I was probably born in the rough.

Q. Considering your finishes in the previous three majors this year, unlucky you might say, and being in contention again here, do you view this as something of a personal mission now that you're there not to let this one get away?

ERNIE ELS: No. I've never been scared of losing. I think if you're scared of losing, you're going to come in with a little bit of anticipation. I'm here it do as well as I can. If I play to my ability, I should have a chance, hopefully Sunday.

It just hasn't gone my way. As I've said before, I've said this quite a few times, at the Masters, I played as good as I could and Phil beat me. At the British Open, I had a couple of chances. I feel like I could have putted a little bit better. I'm not taking anything away from Todd Hamilton; he beat me.

No, there's no different approach to this week than any other major. I'm trying to win like I try and win any other major.

Q. This is a little bit off of the golf track, but I know you have either a wine label or you actually own a vineyard in South Africa. Can you tell me which it is and how you got it and why you got involved in wine?

ERNIE ELS: We just bought a winery, a vineyard down in Stellenbosch, and I've got a label, the Ernie Els Label. It's a blend, it's a bordeaux blend. It's got five different varietals in it. We started in 2000. It was a first vintage, and you know, obviously, with the new winery now, we'll up the production now and stuff like that.

It's a hobby. I'm in partnership with a very good friend of mine who runs the farm and manages the farm.

So it might be something good for one day when I retire.

Q. I know that Greg Norman and Gary Player and there are a couple of other golfers that have labels or vineyards; have you guys talked about this?

ERNIE ELS: I think, you know, Frost has got a vintner down there near Stellenbosch, and I know Greg is big-time into it. He's more into the mass production. My deal is we're trying to make a good wine, and you can make a little bit of money out of it, but it's more of a good hobby.

We got lucky. We got a very good rating, we got a 93 out of 100 on the Wine Spectator. So we're making a good product and that's basically that.

Q. Given the way you played the previous three majors, can you compare the mental challenge and demand that this course makes on you relative to this year's Masters at Augusta, this year's U.S. Open at Shinnecock, and exclude Sunday at Shinnecock, and Troon, as well, how do each one of those challenge you mentally?

ERNIE ELS: That's a good question. I think every major has got something to it where it really challenges you. You know, I would say all four of them are really a great mental challenge. You know with Augusta, with the greens, you've always got a 6- or 7-footer coming back. You've got to hit it in certain areas.

The U.S. Open was just really brutal this year, especially over the weekend. I'll leave it at that.

The Open Championship was very well set up. Obviously there, you've got to battle the conditions, a little bit of breeze here and there. You've got to keep it in play. Very similar to this golf course.

But this course challenges you on the greens. Again, it's got quite a bit of slope. If you miss the fairway, it's almost like a British Open where you've got to try and keep it out of big trouble around the greens. Obviously, when you miss a green, you've got to get it up-and-down from awkward spots. So I think this one is quite a challenge.

You know, at the moment, the scores aren't showing that too much, but you wait and see over the weekend. I think if they don't get too crazy with the setup, it's still fair; you've still got to play great golf to shoot under par.

Q. Putting yourself in contention in so many majors, is that fun or is it brutal and difficult work?

ERNIE ELS: It's both. It's definitely fun. It's not fun when you're playing a very difficult golf course and you're struggling. You know, you're just kind of playing to finish. But then you've got to deal with the pressure when you're in contention, day-in and day-out. So, you know, we practice for this, and I live for this, for this kind of moment now in my career.

So I'm trying to make it fun, but it's a lot of grinding, it's a lot of hard work. But it can be very rewarding. I'm still waiting for that reward this year.

Q. There's been a lot of talk this week about wind. A more serious story here is there's a hurricane bearing down on Orlando. Have you had an opportunity to look in on the home that you have there, are you making any precautions? Darren Clarke said he wasn't able to make any kind of arrangements to look at his home. What's the word with yours?

ERNIE ELS: No, no, I've got a lady down there that looks after my stuff. Actually, Retief Goosen, he's not playing this week, but he's at Lake Nona. He actually called me last night, also, just to find out if I've made any arrangements, especially to move all of my stuff outside. I've got a nice little patio outside in front of the lake and I've got a lot of furniture there. We got it moved away and it's inside the house and everything is locked up.

At the moment, I'm actually going to phone Retief when I'm done here and see if see if everything is okay. They were pretty nervous.

JULIUS MASON: Thanks, Ernie.

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