With Nicklaus founding and hosting the event at Muirfield Village, most of the world’s top players usually make the trip to Ohio to effectively pay tribute to the 18-time major winner.
Masters champion Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are all in the field, while Players Championship winner Rickie Fowler is also competing on the back of last week’s appearance in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
McIlroy missed his second consecutive halfway cut at Royal County Down, despite saying he felt “refreshed” following a similarly early exit from the BMW PGA Championship, but Nicklaus has no issues with the 26-year-old sticking to his schedule after playing five weeks in succession.
McIlroy has played in the Memorial every year since making his debut in 2010, achieving a best finish of joint fifth in 2011, a fortnight before winning his first major title in the US Open.
The Northern Irishman wrote to Nicklaus to explain his decision, only to bump into the man himself at the Bears Club near his home in Florida.
“He came to me and talked to me and said he was in a pickle,” Nicklaus said. “I said ‘Rory, don’t worry about it. You and I are very close, we have no issues. If you have stuff you gotta do in Ireland, you got to do what’s right for you. You gotta get yourself ready for the US Open’. And that’s fine with me. And from the way I handled it, I don’t think you will see Rory miss here very often.”
Speaking before winning the Wells Fargo Championship by seven shots last month, McIlroy said: “The first thing he said to me was that he’d received my letter and I said to him that I wanted to write to you rather than phone or just advise the (PGA) Tour, so he seemed pretty taken back to get my letter and that made me also feel good.
“I have played the Memorial every year since coming over here so he was happy and I told him I’m already looking forward to the event next year.”
Woods is seeking his sixth win at Muirfield Village and comes into the event having spent two days practising at Chambers Bay, venue for the US Open in a fortnight’s time. The 39-year-old has not played since finishing 69th in the Players Championship on 10 May, which was just his fourth tournament of 2015 following a month off to work on his game after a career-worst 82 in the Phoenix Open and an injury-withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open.