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Jack Nicklaus: Jon Rahm ‘closest’ right now to era-defining player, not Rory McIlroy

In a recent Q&A with the New York Times, Jack Nicklaus was a bit perplexed when asked who is currently the best golfer in the world.

“It’s very debatable,” the 18-time major champion said. “I think Rory McIlroy is the one who I would have said probably is the best player in the world, but then Rory doesn’t even make the cut at (the Masters). How does the best player in the world miss the cut at the first major?”

Last July in another Q&A with the Times, Gary Player said that golf doesn’t currently have an era-defining figure, as Nicklaus and Tiger Woods were.

Nicklaus agrees with Player, however, he has someone who most resembles his and Woods’ dominance.

Full-field scores from the PGA Championship

“Rahm would be the closest,” he said.

And the Golden Bear sees a bit of himself in the reigning Masters champion.

“Followed [Rahm’s] play from when he first started,” Nicklaus said. I’ve always thought that he plays very smart golf. He played much the way I did: left to right, and played much for the power game. I like what he does. I like the way he goes about it. He’s got a little bit of fire in him. He can get mad, which is OK because it usually helps him. Some guys get mad and it destroys them, but it seems to help him.”

The Spaniard is currently the world’s best-ranked player, however, coming into the year, it was McIlroy. The Northern Irishman’s game, though, has slowed down a bit, and Nicklaus thinks he can pinpoint why.

“His usual is to go par, par, birdie, birdie, birdie, eight, and that’s what he’s not been doing,” Nicklaus said. “He and I have talked about it. I said, ‘Rory, it’s got to be 100 percent concentration, and you can’t let yourself get into a position where you can make a quad or whatever.’ I think he understands that very well. He’s certainly very smart.”

Jack Nicklaus recently went on Nick Faldo’s new podcast – Sir Nick’s Round Table Chats – and had some thoughts about Rory’s game.

But whoever the world No. 1 is, Nicklaus believes that a rotating cast of stars atop the game is healthy for the sport.

“I guess that’s the beauty of golf,” he said. “It’s not like tennis, where you knew you were going to get [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic.”

Nicklaus added: “I think most sports are probably more healthy with more stars — more diversity in what’s going on and more people to look at. When Arnold Palmer and Gary and I played, if one of the three of us didn’t play in a tournament, they felt the tournament was a failure.

“But if you’ve got 10 or 12 guys who are really at the top, you don’t have to get more than two or three of them to create a tournament and you’ve got a really good field. If there’s only one guy, it’s all on his back, and I don’t think that’s real good.”