The Karhunen-Loeve (K-L) decomposition method has become a popular technique to create low-dimensional, reduced-order models of dynamical systems. In this paper this technique is applied to a multi-degree-of-freedom chain of linear coupled oscillators with a strongly nonlinear (nonlinearizable), lightweight end attachment. By performing K-L decomposition we show that the lightweight nonlinear attachment (possessing 0.5% of the total mass of the chain) can affect the global dynamics of the linear chain, exhibiting nonlinear energy-pumping phenomena; that is, irreversible passive targeted energy transfers from the linear chain to the nonlinear end attachment, where this energy is locally confined and dissipated without 'spreading back' to the primary system. It is shown that the occurrence of energy pumping can be identified by studying the dominant K-L modes of the dynamics, as well as, the energy distribution among them. Moreover, by comparing the action of the strongly nonlinear attachment to the classical linear vibration absorber, we show robustness of passive nonlinear energy absorption over wide parameter ranges. On the other hand, the case-sensitive nature of K-L-based reduced-order models has always been a constraint for K-L decomposition, since one cannot quantify a priori the error bound of such low-dimensional reduced-order models when different initial conditions are applied to the system. To alleviate this constraint, the paper proposes a multiple correlation coefficient (MCC) as a quantitative measure to effectively assess the applicability of a K-L-based reduced-order model derived for a specific set of initial conditions to a small neighborhood of initial conditions containing that initial state. The derived reduced-order models are validated through reconstruction of the system responses and comparisons to direct numerical integrations.