Ernie Els First Round Interview Transcript
Q. You were saying yesterday, which didn't register at the time, that you weren't real confident this time a year ago, but you're a lot more confident in how you're playing now. What was up last year?
ERNIE ELS: Last year at this time, that's a full year ago, I was coming out of '99 season, a lot of things happened. I didn't play very well that season. Especially the year before, '98, I didn't play well either. The main problem was my performances in the majors. You know, I think before '98 I had a very good record in the majors. For some reason, '98, '99, I didn't play well in them. I felt like I lost out a little bit, you know, on confidence, whatever it was. I just didn't feel like I was the same player as I was in '97. Coming here and playing so well was one thing, but I don't think I had that extra, which you need.
Q. So the fact that you played well in the majors this year, at least certainly the first three, won a couple of times, you feel like you're closer to where you feel like you should be?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, more in that direction. I'm closer to where I want to be, yeah, definitely. Not quite there.
Q. How good was it for you to get off to a good start, obviously you want to play well early in the year, but also after maybe not winning last week, and after last year, losing in a playoff? Now, sitting here, are you pretty happy to have this kind of score?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah. I mean, you know, it always helps your year when you start off pretty strong. I played a good Masters, which was very early in the year. It's the first week in April. My game was almost back on form by then. I think the start I made here was good. I think, again, this year I want to try to do the same. I want to get off to a strong start. I definitely want to try and win a couple more times this year. You know, I just want to get into that Sunday afternoon group of players where you have a chance to win. That's all you can ask for.
Q. Is there a stigma to taking a penalty, unplayable lie? If you're up against a tree, will you do anything?
ERNIE ELS: I think as a player, yeah, it kind of goes against our beliefs (laughter). You know, if you can see it, you can probably play it. That's kind of what we want to believe in, you know. You know, sometimes it definitely works in your favor. You know, I think most of the guys have some kind of skill, out of any kind of a situation, we definitely try and go in there and have the belief that we can get the ball out and do it. So, yeah, I do whatever I can to not take a penalty drop. I would say I'm also in that group of players (laughter).
Q. I asked because Woods was up to his knees on 9. A, he finds it, which none of the chops in this room could find. He found enough balls to keep playing for a week.
ERNIE ELS: Today?
Q. Yes. Then he was able somehow to get it out of there into the bunker, right in front of the green.
ERNIE ELS: Did that there last year, as well.
Q. Did he?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah.
Q. He knew how to do it? He's got that shot?
ERNIE ELS: He had a chance, he had a chance (laughter). He's a little different out of that stuff than any of us, you know. Showed that a couple of times.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.
This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.
Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.
Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.
“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”
Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.
“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”
Day (66) only star to shine Saturday at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – With an early rain softening an already vulnerable course, there were plenty of birdies to be had during the third round of the Travelers Championship. They were few and far between, however, for some of the biggest names in the field.
On the same TPC River Highlands layout where Paul Casey took control of the tournament with an 8-under 62, the decorated quartet of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka combined to shoot 1 under with no single score better than a 1-under 69.
Spieth’s dim hopes of back-to-back titles were effectively ended with a 1-over 71, while McIlroy’s second straight 69 dropped him from three shots off the lead to outside the top 10.
Thomas (70) and Koepka (69) are now 11 and 12 shots back, respectively.
Among the top-ranked contenders, the only player to make a modicum of a move was Jason Day, who shot a 4-under 66 and heads into the final round in a tie for sixth, six shots behind Casey. The Aussie made four birdies over his first nine holes, but he stalled out on the more gettable inward half.
“I’m happy with the way I’m playing right now. I played well today from tee to green,” Day said. “Tomorrow it all depends on how Paul plays.”
Day has won twice already this season, but facing a significant deficit against a seasoned veteran he realizes that a quick start will be necessary to retain any hopes for a third title.
“This course can yield some birdies, which is quite nice,” Day said. “Get through tomorrow in a couple under on the front side, and then try to let things go a little bit on the back side if you can.”
Monkey off his back, Casey freed up to win again
CROMWELL, Conn. – Paul Casey is flushing his irons, rolling in putts and no longer fielding questions about a lengthy victory drought. For the remaining players looking to chase him down at the Travelers Championship, it adds up to a terrifying combination.
The Englishman felt right at home on a gray and dreary afternoon at TPC River Highlands, vaulting to the top of the leaderboard with an 8-under 62. It was the lowest round of the week, two shots better than the next best effort Saturday, and it turned a two-shot deficit into a four-shot lead heading into the final round.
After enduring an afternoon logjam, with as many as five players sharing the lead at one point, the tournament is now Casey’s to lose – and he’s not shying away from the burden.
“You’d always rather have a lead,” Casey said. “When you’re behind, there is no room for error. No, I’m excited. I’ve got confidence in my game. I’ve got confidence with the man standing next to me (caddie John McLaren), confidence in the gameplan of how to get around this golf course.”
That approach is undoubtedly aided by the magic act Casey pulled off in March at the Valspar Championship. Teeing off well before the tournament leaders, he shot a final-round 65 and watched as the likes of Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed were unable to match his number.
Without having to field a single question about the weight of the burden he shouldered, about ending a PGA Tour victory drought that extended back to the 2009 Houston Open, Casey launched the monkey off his back and into the trees lining the 18th fairway at Innisbrook.
While Casey has won 13 times on the European Tour, including five times from 2009-14, his dry spell on this side of the Atlantic had become a point of discussion and one that wore on the affable veteran. But one sublime round in Tampa rendered it moot, and it will also grant him an extra sense of calm heading into the final round outside Hartford where only Russell Henley will start the day within five shots of his total.
“If I hadn’t won in a while, then yeah, there would be more pressure. I sit here right now with no nerves,” Casey said. “I’m sure there will be tomorrow, but no nerves now. I’m very happy with what I’ve done. In years past maybe that wouldn’t have been the case because there hadn’t been enough wins.”
Granted, this is an event that often doesn’t follow the script. Birdies will be there for the taking on a course softened by light rains, and low scores shouldn’t be hard to find. This is, after all, where Jim Furyk shot a 58 two years ago and where Kevin Streelman ended his comeback victory in 2014 with a run of seven straight birdies.
Trailing by six, Bubba Watson floated the notion of needing a 60 to catch Casey without any hint that the score is out of reach. Jason Day, who like Watson trails by six at 10 under, quickly sniffed out Casey’s long-term track record like a shark seizing on a droplet of blood.
“Tomorrow it all depends on how Paul plays,” Day said. “I know that he in the past hasn’t quite got over the line with some of the wins that he possibly could have won, and that’s kind of a positive in my mind knowing that.”
But the look of calm confidence that emanates from Casey is that of a man who no longer has to answer questions about when The Win will come. His next victory will be just that, the next one. Another trophy to add to the decorated credentials of a player who has re-established himself in the game’s upper echelon over the past three years.
He’s back on a course he has thrived on from the very first time he set foot on the property, losing in a playoff to Watson in 2015 in his tournament debut. He has returned each year since, finishing T-17 and T-5.
His final-round 71 in 2016, carded the same day Furyk shot his 58, is proving more and more to be an aberration since each of his other 14 competitive rounds in Cromwell have ended up in the 60s. That includes three straight this week, capped by Saturday’s effort where he hit every green in regulation and tied his career low score on Tour.
Yes, the tournament is Casey’s to lose. But liberated by a recent win and playing some of his best golf at one of his favorite venues, there’s little reason to expect him to do anything but lift the trophy he barely missed out on three years ago.
“If I go out there tomorrow and I hit it the way I normally hit it, and I putt it well,” Casey said, “then I’m fairly confident.”
Couples one behind Toledo; Sticker struggles in Wisc.
MADISON, Wis. – Esteban Toledo birdied four of the last six holes for a 6-under 66 and the second-round lead Saturday in the American Family Insurance Championship.
Five strokes behind tournament host Steve Stricker after an opening 69 in rain Friday at University Ridge, Toledo had six birdies in a bogey-free round to reach 9-under 135. The 55-year-old Mexican player won the last of his four PGA Tour Champions titles in 2016.
Defending champion Fred Couples (67), David Toms (66), Kent Jones (67) and Billy Mayfair (68) were a stroke back.
''I'm surprised that someone isn't 11 or 12 under, but the greens picked up a lot of pace today,'' Couples said. ''I think maybe the scoring was a little easier yesterday because we got to clean the ball in the fairways, but it's not easy out there.''
Bernhard Langer (69) was 8 under with Madison player Jerry Kelly (69), Scott McCarron (67), Mark Calcavecchia (68), Paul Goydos (68), Joey Sindelar (68), Glen Day (69) and Brad Bryant (72).
''The conditions haven't been that easy,'' Kelly said. ''The pins are in some spots where you can't spin it and you have to hit them firm out of these kind of soft fairways, otherwise you could chunk it. It's not that easy even though the course is gettable. There's just a few things going on out there to keep the scoring from going too low like it normally does.''
Stricker followed his opening 64 with a 74, ending his Champions under-par streak at 30 rounds - the fourth-longest streak in tour history.
''It just was one of those days where I didn't have a lot of energy,'' Stricker said. ''Nothing - hit very few good shots, really. The couple that I did hit well, I was in bad spots, and a couple bad shots even got worse.''
He had three bogeys and a birdie - on the final hole.
''That was a big birdie in my mind,'' Stricker said. ''It kept me a little bit closer. No one ran away with this thing today and three shots back, a lot of guys in between me and the lead. It was a good putt to make and finally get a birdie. That was my only one today.''
Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.
John Daly matched Stricker at 6 under with a 70.