British Open champion Jack Nicklaus, fighting back from some erratic driving, dropped in a 50-foot birdie putt from the fringe of the 16th hole yesterday and scrambled for par on the 18th to win the $250,000 Philadelphia Golf Classic by one stroke over Gil Morgan.

Nicklaus, who won the British Open eight days earlier, captured the $50,000 first place money with a three-under par 68 and a 270 total, 14 under par.

Three strokes back were Jerry Pate, the 1976 U.S. Open champion, and Hale Irwin, Pate shot 66 and Irwin 67.

Nicklaus, 38, trailing Bruce Lietzke by one stroke after Saturday's third round, regained the lead on the front nine yesterday when he birdied the first hole with an eight-foot putt, and Lietzke took a double-bogey on seven and a bogey on eight.

Nicklaus gained his third triumph in nine appearances on the Whitemarsh Valley Country Club.

On the final four holes, Morgan carded birdies on 15 and 16 to move wihtin two strokes of the lead. When Nicklaus bogeyed the 17th, the difference was down to a single stroke.

Nicklaus' drive on 18 sailed into a bunker, but he blasted out to within 20 feet of the pin and two-putted to save par.

Morgan, playing in the group behind Nicklaus, drove into the right rough on 18, hit his second shot just short of the green and was able only to garner a par.

This was the fourth victory of the year for Nicklaus, who in addition to the British Open had won the Inverrary and the Tournament Players Championship.

Nicklaus admitted he would not have played in Philadelphia if it had not been a PGA designated event, meaning all the game's top stars had to play.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to. But I'm here to play golf," Nicklaus said before he teed off in Thursday's opening round. He posted a 65 the first day, a tournament-tying course record 64 Friday, a momentary slip to one-over par 72 Saturday and final round 68.

Nicklaus had four birdies and did not lose a stroke to par until the 464-yard, par-4 17th hole. He had rough and bunker problems, pitched 16 feet from the cup and two-putted.

He said he was aware that Morgan had birdied 16.

"I wasn't too concerned until I hit my tee shot on 18 into a bunker," Nicklaus said. He said it reminded him of the 17th hole at the Memorial three months ago when he drove into a bunker and wound up with a double bogey. Nicklaus recovered with his par.

Morgan, who began the final round three strokes behind Lietzke, rolled in a three-foot putt for a birdie on the third hole and a six-footer on the seventh, making the turn in two under 34.

Morgan, who earned $28,500 for second place, had two 12-foot birdie putts - on 15 and 16.

Hubert Green, who shot one under par 70 yesterday, including a hole in one with a six iron at the 12th, was fifth at 274. Then, came Mark Hayes, Washington, D.C.'s Lee Elder, Miller Barber and Lietzke, tied for sixth at 275. Lietzke shot 74 yesterday.

The tour's top money winner, Andy Bean, would up tied for 10th at 276, while U.S. Open champ Andy North was at four-under-par 280, a tie for 28th.