Two-time U.S. Open winner ERNIE ELS added the British Open to his major title portfolio in 2002. He lacks wins in the Masters and the PGA Championship to secure golf’s Grand Slam. The “Big Easy” assessed his chances at the opening tournament of the year, the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, Maui, which he won in eye-opening fashion, setting a new PGA Tour record for strokes under par (31-under).

     AW: Do you do anything to try and peak for the majors?
EE: If they need it, I’ll work on certain shots you have to have for the majors — driving the ball well, being sharp around the greens. Beyond that, I try to play the tournament I’m in to the best of my ability, so I can come into the majors with confidence.

     AW: Have the changes to Augusta helped you?
EE: Definitely. As well as guys like Phil Mickelson, obviously Tiger, Davis Love … . You’ve got to have the short game, but definitely you need length. We used to hit nine irons, wedges, into the par-4s, six irons into the par-5s. It’s a totally different animal now.

     AW: Is there a key to Augusta?
EE: Experience. It takes a year or two, maybe three, just to get comfortable with the whole surroundings of the place, especially the speed and slope of the greens. Guys who have been there a few years have an advantage.

     AW: Yogi Berra said 90 percent of baseball is half-mental. But golf really gets inside your head.
EE: Many players are psyched out before they start. They think the course is too tough, or the aura about the majors bears down on them. Nicklaus’ record in majors is unbelievable, largely because he knew how the other guys were thinking — and he didn’t think that way.