Saturday 24 February 2018

'McIlroy can win 20 Majors', says legend Nicklaus

Nicklaus backs Holywood star to overtake his 18-title record

Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot during his practice round at Valhalla. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot during his practice round at Valhalla. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy can win 20 Major championships and shatter the all-time record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus.

Says who? Nicklaus himself.

"I think Rory is an unbelievable talent," said Nicklaus, who struck up a firm personal friendship with McIlroy from the moment they first met in Palm Beach, Florida five years ago. "I love his swing, I love his rhythm, I love his moxie," added the Golden Bear. "He's got a little swagger there, it's a little bit cocky, but not offensive. I like that.

"I like the self-confidence in a young man, while he's got an unbelievable amount of speed in his golf swing and obviously hits the ball a heck of a long way. He also hits it in there constantly and I admire how he controls it," the American legend enthused.

"It depends on what he feels his priorities are – and that's his call – but I think Rory has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 Majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing. Yet you just don't know what the guy's priorities are going to be in life 10 years from now."

McIlroy heads into this week's PGA Championship at the Nicklaus-designed Valhalla Golf Club having won his past two events, including the British Open championship, his third Major title.

Nicklaus (74) counselled McIlroy at various times about business and golf. They even discussed his golf swing in a private tete-a-tete at May's Memorial Championship, which Nicklaus hosts at his home club, Muirfield, in Ohio.

Another glowing endorsement of McIlroy's sky-high potential was offered by Sergio Garcia, beaten into second place twice by the 25-year-old in the past three weeks at Hoylake and Firestone.

Garcia rates McIlroy as more intimidating to play against than Tiger Woods at this pomp, saying: "The two of them are great players, but when they are both at their best, it seems to me like Rory is less afraid of hitting driver.

"And when he's hitting it as well as he is now, he hits it very far and very straight. Obviously, that makes a lot of holes a lot easier for him. You know, where most of the guys are hitting seven-iron, he's hitting a wedge."

After three days of intensive speculation about Tiger's prospects of playing at Valhalla, he turned up at the golf course yesterday and played nine holes, then putted only on the back nine. Woods withdrew during the final round of the Bridgestone last Sunday in agony after aggravating the back injury which required surgery in March, but is now expected to tee it up with Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson in today's first round.

Tiger's back may have been creaking, but he showed as much 'front' as ever after finishing with birdie. "I'm here to win," he said. "The sacrum popped out and pinched a nerve. There was some soft tissue damage, but once the bone was popped back in, it felt fine. I played alright and want to have a proper run at it tomorrow. I've a job to do, which is to try and win this thing."

Tom Watson yesterday added Tour star Steve Stricker (47) to his backroom team for next month's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

Irish Independent

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