Nicklaus, who was forced to withdraw from the Masters tournament two weeks ago due to a nagging back injury, is scheduled to make his first Senior start since pulling out of the Ford Senior Players Championship in July.
Nicklaus has won 10 times on the 50-and-over circuit, eight of which are major championships. The 62-year-old has won this event on four occasions, with the last coming in 1996 - his most recent Senior triumph.
The Nicklaus-designed Prospector course at the Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club will replace the Cochise Course at Desert Mountain as the host venue.
Doug Tewell is the defending champion of the $2 million event. He ran away with the 2001 title, shooting 10-under-par 62 in the final round to win by nine shots over Mike McCullough. In the process, he became the events second wire-to-wire winner in its 13-year history.
Tewells 23-under 265 total was a tournament record, and was the lowest 72-hole total since Nicklaus won the 1990 Ford Senior Players with an all-time record of 27-under 261.
The now 52-year-old Tewell failed to post another victory in 2001, but he has won twice already in 02, including the tours last event, the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.
Though the tour took last week off, Tewell did not. He competed in the PGA Tours WorldCom Classic, which he won in 1980, and made the cut. He shot rounds of 69-70-73-75 to finish tied for 68th.
Hale Irwin, a three-time winner at Hilton Head, needs to add The Tradition title to his resume in order to complete the career Senior Grand Slam. This is the lone major, in a career that consists of 34 tour victories, that has eluded him.
This is the latest date the event has ever been held, primarily because of past freakish weather. In 1990, an ice storm postponed the opening round of the event. In '97, temperatures were in the low 40s Thursday, with winds blowing 20 mph and rain falling. In '98, another ice storm delayed the start of the first round for 2 hours. The following year, two days of snow reduced the event to just 36 holes. And two years ago, lightning and rain on Friday suspended play twice and forced the second round to be completed on Saturday morning.
Full field and for the Countrywide Tradition