The 25-year-old Northern Irishman became the third-youngest golfer in the modern era, after the two American greats, to land three of the four major championships when he triumphed by two strokes at Royal Liverpool on Sunday.
“I like his swagger,” said 18-times major winner Nicklaus on his official Facebook page. “I like the way he handles himself. I like his desire to be great. I like his desire to do the things he needs to do. I like that in a young guy. He’s cocky in a nice way.”
McIlroy went into the last day holding a six-stroke lead and Nicklaus said he was particularly impressed with the way he protected his advantage with a safety-first 71 in the final round. “He didn’t take some of the chances that he did in the other rounds as far as the clubs he hit off the tee,” added the Golden Bear.
“Rory didn’t put himself in position to lose the golf tournament. He did what he needed to do. It’s about shooting what you have to shoot to win the golf tournament.”
Woods, who finished 69th of the 72 players who made the cut at Royal Liverpool in only his second competitive appearance since undergoing back surgery in March, compared new world No 2 McIlroy to his great rival Phil Mickelson.
“The way Rory plays is pretty aggressively,” said the 14-times major champion. “When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad – it’s one or the other.
“He’s very similar to what Phil does. He has his hot weeks and he has his weeks where he’s off. And that’s just the nature of how he plays the game. He hasn’t really been making the amount of putts that he did a couple of years ago, but now he’s starting to make those ten to 15-footers. That turns rounds around,” Woods said.
Mickelson said it would be tough for McIlroy to dominate world golf the way Woods and Nicklaus once did. “We used to say there will never be another Nicklaus and then along came Tiger,” said the five-times major winner.
“You never want to discount the possibility of someone coming along and dominating but nobody has asserted themselves week in and week out the way Tiger did for such a long period. We’ll have great performances, like Rory this week, like Martin Kaymer at last month’s US Open, but it’s very hard to do that week in and week out.”