Jack is back.

There are those who will argue Nicklaus never was away, that he played good enough to win such major tournaments last season as the British Open at Turnberry, only to lose to exceptional efforts.

They might be right. But to millions of doubting duffers there was beginning to be some concern.

What worried many members of The Pack was the way Nicklaus was losing, by hitting the kind of amateurish shots, in the clutch, associated with mortal golfers. There was the '77 Masters and PGA, for example, and more recently the Lost Angeles Open.

Then came the final five holes at Inverrary, five straight birdies, followed by another excellent performance at Doral and now here at Sawgrass in the TPC.Three weeks later, no one is whispering that Nicklaus is about to join Palmer on the other side of midnight.

Credit for the reseurgence, Nicklaus says, is a home remedy course designed to help hit chipping ills, a different driver and more attention to TV tapes.

"I've never had total confidence in my chipping," Nicklaus acknowledged this week. "The short wedge play has always been the weakest part of my game, partly because of lack of use, so I've been working on it in my back yard."

There is a green rough, sand, water - all the trappings. Nicklaus designs golf courses in his spare time. The back yard layout was easy.

"It's about 70 yards, a par-two, and I'm trying to develop it into a par-one," he quipped. "I'm filling the lake, behind it, with golf balls. I've worked on my chipping a lot and it's helped. My kids like to play. Gary is 9 years old. When he comes home from school we'll play nine holes, or I'll experiment and fiddle around out there with him."

Anyone who has seen Nicklaus chipping in recent weeks has to be impressed. His driving also is better.

"I grew up with a nine-degree (lift) driver. That's what I used the first five years on the tour. Then I broke it, down on South Africa with Gary (Player. I found a driver with a 12-degree lift three or four years ago. I drove shorter with it, but straighter.

"But I'd always had this (9 1/2 degree) driver sitting at home. I decided to slip another shaft into it (a half-inch longer), and now I'm driving much farther, and still straight."

Nicklaus has won 80 professional tournaments, 64 on the PGA tour. His earning s total $3,189,789. Sixteen major titles already are in his bag. The Masters early next month is his next major objective. He has won at Augusta five times.