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Nicklaus backs McIlroy's decision

Published 03/06/2015

Rory McIlroy, right, and Jack Nicklaus have become good friends
Rory McIlroy, right, and Jack Nicklaus have become good friends

Jack Nicklaus has backed Rory McIlroy's decision to miss this week's Memorial Tournament and predicted the world number one will not do so too often in the future.

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.

"Most of the guys who aren't here this week have come to me and said 'Jack I've got this problem,'" Nicklaus told a pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday.

"I said 'Hey wait a minute, don't worry about us, you've got to do what's right for you'. I ended up having to make those choices at times, what was right for me. I respect what the guys have to do and how they are pulled from so many directions, and for the most part the guys have been here."

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 added. "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 May 10, 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.

Woods told reporters he was "more confident" in his game than he was at Sawgrass, adding: "I feel good about the changes we've made. It's still evolving, but getting better."

Speaking about his trip to Chambers Bay, Woods said he had taken seven hours to play 18 holes on Monday and played the course again on Tuesday, noting that USGA executive director Mike Davis has said players would need to spend more time than usual preparing to tackle a relatively unknown layout with lots of different tees.

"I thought that was interesting Mike would say something like that," Woods said. "When Mike says something like that you have to pay attention because he's a smart guy.

"We spent a lot of time there, did a lot of homework. It's very challenging because Mike has so many options. We don't see this even at [the Open Championship] because the greens aren't banked like this."

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