Nicklaus: McIlroy impressive; Tiger should make Ryder Cup

Jack Nicklaus spoke to the media ahead of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.

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At only 25, Rory McIlroy already has won three major championships, all different ones. But the count is just beginning, to hear the man who holds the record of 18 major titles.

“I think he’s going to win a lot of major championships,” Jack Nicklaus said Thursday via conference call. “I like his swagger ... his confidence.”

Nicklaus said he figures McIlroy will set records along the way. How many, and how many majors he’ll end up with, depends on the Northern Irishman’s desire, Nicklaus said.

Some players want to live a normal life and others decide records are important and want to leave a legacy, Nicklaus said. “Whichever direction Rory heads, he’ll be successful,” Nicklaus said. “He’s the one who has to decide.”

Nicklaus gave McIlroy a swing tip when the two met at Nicklaus’ office in south Florida before the U.S. Open. But the Golden Bear said he doesn’t know whether the Ulsterman used it in winning last week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

“I saw a couple of things that I thought could help him,” Nicklaus said. “I didn’t want to interfere with his teacher. … Rory seemed very much at ease (with his swing) at the British. But he may not have remembered or thought about (the Nicklaus tip). Whether I helped him, I don’t know.”

Nicklaus, of course, was asked about 14-time major winner Tiger Woods, who has looked rusty in five of his six competitive rounds since returning from March 31 microdiscectomy. Nicklaus said he thought Woods’ swing looked good in an opening 69 at the Open and wasn’t sure what went wrong after that.

But he’s optimistic Woods will return to strong form soon. “He’ll be back and do pretty good,” he said.

Nicklaus didn’t hesitate when asked whether Woods should be picked for the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will play Europe in late September in Gleneagles, Scotland.

“Absolutely,” Nicklaus said. “If I were the captain, I would be hard-pressed (not to select him). I don’t care what he does (in his next two or more tournaments). I would choose him.”

Asked what advice he would give Woods now if he were his coach, Nicklaus said, “Tiger probably knows what he has to do. He’s smart. He understands his game. I don’t think it’s my place to give him advice.”

Nicklaus, who celebrated his 54th wedding anniversary Tuesday, also talked about the many changes to his course designs that will play host to the PGA Championship (Valhalla) and the Ryder Cup (Gleneagles Centenary).

The greens were redone at Valhalla, and tweaks were made to every hole. He said several holes are “more user-friendly” and several greens have more pin positions.

He said he expects a similar winning score as in 2000, when Woods and runnerup Bob May each shot 18-under 270 in regulation. That’s because it’s hard to get the turf firm and fast in August in Louisville.

As for the Ryder Cup, he said he expects players often shooting the equivalent of 66 to 68. He said the Centenary wasn’t “intended to be a back-breaking” course but can play difficult in bad weather conditions.

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