She was standing outside the gallery rope near the 12th green. The youngest son, Michael, was on the ground twisting a piece of clover around a twig -- and as her husband strode by with a three-stroke lead in the U.S. Open Barbara Nicklaus thought back 13 years and said:

"Jack's parents were with us then (when he won the 1967 Open here at Baltusrol). It was one of Jack's last wins his father saw -- and it came on Father's Day. Jackie was Michael's age then, about 6. He's 19 now, about to enter North Carolina University."

She volunteered that the 11-year-old, Gary, recently had broken 40 for nine holes for the first time, saying to his playing partners after starting par-birdie-birdie-par: "What do I do now?" Jack doubled up with laughter when he asked Gary what happened on the back nine and the kid blurted: "Guess I just lost my concentration."

The old man two-putted for his par and seemed in control of both himself and everyone else in the third round today. Later, he would admit: "At the 10th hole, I was very relaxed, very confident, very composed. I had an opportunity to really go and lose the field." So some reflection was in order, since he appeared about to lift a remarkable record still higher.

"Jack has won one more major than I have total tournaments," Hubert Green had said a few hours earlier, lending just the proper perspective to Nicklaus' career. "And I think my record (16 victories, one of them the Open) is pretty good. But I can't shine Jack's shoes."

There are no moments in sport more pleasurable than watching Nicklaus work a golf course at the peak of his skills. As he chased his tee ball down the 13th fairway, though, Barbara recalled his retroactive frustration with himself.

"From that Open win here to the '70 British Open, he didn't win a major," she said. "He won some tournaments, but things came easy to him. When his father died in February of '70, it hit him very hard. It was the first real tragedy in his life -- and I think Jack sort of felt he had let his father down, that he had wasted a few years of his talent."

But Nicklaus already was melting from the 214-pound fattie who had hit 61 greens in regulation and set the four-round record during his victory here in 1967. The dietary discipline that allows Nicklaus to affect a regal-like look at 181 pounds began in 1969.

"We were coming home from the Ryder Cup matches," Barbara remembered, "and he said: 'If I eat, I'm gonna gain 20 pounds. I'm gonna lose 20.' You've got to know Jack to appreciate that. He said that on a Monday. That Thursday, I heard him on the phone with Hart, Schaffner and Marx and saying:

"'Could you have a tailor down here in two weeks? I'm gonna lose some weight.' I was stunned."

Nicklaus lost 15 pounds in about a month -- and Barbara said there was another call to his clothier: "Don't call again. We start from here."

If Nicklaus should pull ahead of perhaps the most astonishing putter in Open history, Isao Aoki, and stay ahead of Tom Watson and the others Sunday, his fourth Open victory also would come on Father's Day. Michael already offered his gift.

"A Japanese photographer took a picture of Jack and Michael," Barbara said. "Jack's looking down at him with this darling look, so we framed it and Michael signed it, 'I love you, Dad.' He followed Jack Thursday. I had a baby sitter set for Friday, but he said: 'No way.' The only hole Michael didn't see Jack play was the 12th, where he took double bogey.

Michael was squirming to the front of the line at a hot-dog stand when his father started being uncommonly generous. At the 14th hole, he made bogey from a bunker. At the 15th hole, he pushed his tee shot far right and a customer yelled: "Come on, Jack, scramble." Nicklaus looked at him, shrugged his shoulders and wrinkled his face, as though amazed that anyone would not know the Open is 72 holes of scrambling.

Nicklaus walked toward the sort of shot his devotees relish watching, a pitch that must be low enough to slip under some limbs 15 feet high, firm enough to reach the green 110 yards away and yet delicate enough not to run into deeper trouble. He stroked it exactly right, the ball landing on the green and stopping 20 feet from the hole.

A possible bogey had become a possible birdie. The cheering was intense.

It was premature.

"I thought the green was glass fast," he said of the first putt."But I left it five feet short."

In disgust, he turned toward the gallery and shouted: "Dag."

"The green turned out to be glass fast on the par putt," he said later, "and I hit it three feet by. I had to hustle to keep from four-putting."

Nicklaus and his putter had started a new romance this week, but all of a sudden it was getting icy again. He had a wonderful chance for birdie at 16 -- and missed. He had an even better chance at 17 -- and missed. After hitting a worm-burner of a three-wood that scarcely traveled 100 yards, Nicklaus smacked a four-iron shot to within seven feet at the par-five 17th.

Aoki was about 30 feet from the hole, which is gimme distance for him. Nicklaus has played with Aoki all three rounds here, watched him make about everything he stroked with a putter that looks a bit like an elongated claw hammer.

Later, Aoki was asked if anything on a golf course makes him angry. Through an interpreter, he gave a bland answer. Somebody thought of the right one. It must send volcanic-like bubbles through Aoki to two-putt.

Nicklaus was standing equidistant from his ball on the other side of the hole as Aoki took a swipe at that 30-foot birdie at 17. Magically, the ball found the bottom of the cup once again -- and Nicklaus stood and fixed a stare at Aoki, as though wondering: "Who is this guy?"

Quickly, Nicklaus was hunkering down to regain the line on his own birdie. It flew away.

At 18, Nicklaus hit two splendid shots, the last a one-iron that ended with the ball 30 feet from the pin, a possible eagle on the par 5 and a near-certain birdie. Michael could have two-putted. Jack three-putted for par. Aoki stung him again, with a nine-footer for the bird that created a tie for the lead and their being paired once more as the final twosome.

For the second time in 13 years, Nicklaus has made sure the final round of the U. S. Open at Baltusrol will be a special Father's Day, though hardly in the fashion he had hoped. With the sort of lead he would have mustered had his putter cooperated, it could have been a Sunday stroll to glory. It now is another tough day at the office.