Curtis Strange, who hasn't won since his second straight U.S. Open in 1989, was the topic of conversation at the Buick Challenge--before the tournament began, after his first-round 77 and even after missing the cut despite a 66.

Why?

All signs point toward him as the front-runner to be the next Ryder Cup captain.

"Everybody would be interested," Strange said. "Everybody would treat it as a tremendous honor to go to the Belfry and be a captain. But I haven't talked to anybody, so I don't know."

Strange fits the perfect profile to be the next captain. He will be 46 when the 2001 Ryder Cup is played, is still very involved with the current crop of stars and is not hurt by his work as a television analyst for ABC Sports. He also has player support.

"I think Curtis would do a great job," Justin Leonard said. "I don't know who the PGA of America is thinking about, but he would be on my short list."

The PGA of America will announce the new captain before the end of this year. . . .

Tom Watson won a closest-to-the-pin playoff with a tee shot that stopped 6 feet 2 inches from the hole, leading his team of Dottie Pepper and Graham Marsh to victory in the Gillette Tour Challenge in Tucker's Town, Bermuda.

Watson, Pepper and Marsh each won $165,000 in the third annual event that features eight teams made up of players from the PGA, LPGA and Senior tours.

John Daly picked up his biggest check of the year--$60,000. He played with Karrie Webb and Hugh Baiocchi and tied for fifth. ABC Sports will televise the tournament Nov. 28.

Basketball

Sprewell a No-Show

Latrell Sprewell stayed away from training camp in Charleston, S.C., for another day, surprising the New York Knicks by waiting out the verdict in his civil suit in California. Sprewell's agent had originally told the Knicks he would join the team following closing arguments in the trial, but the player then decided to wait for the jury to come back. After a day of deliberations, the verdict came in: No punitive damages, although Sprewell must pay $105,000 to two people who were injured in a car accident he admittedly caused. Following the verdict, there was no word from Sprewell or the Knicks as to when he would arrive. . . .

Isaiah Rider missed the Atlanta Hawks' first day of training camp. A representative from agent Arn Tellem's office called Hawks GM Pete Babcock on Monday and told him that Rider had missed several flights, but would attempt to be on an evening plane to Atlanta for the team's mandatory media day. That didn't happen, and Rider missed the team bus to Chattanooga, Tenn., where the Hawks are holding training camp.

Arn Tellem told Babcock in two conversations yesterday that he also was trying to track down Rider, and had not heard from him.

Tennis

Agassi Advances

No. 1-ranked Andre Agassi powered his way into the second round of the $1 million Swiss Indoors tournament in Basel, with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands. Defending champion and fourth-seed Tim Henman, meanwhile, needed three sets to beat Swiss wild card George Bastl, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, who is ranked 113th in the world. . . .

Jana Novotna, the 1998 Wimbledon champion, ended her 12-year career in Filderstadt, Germany, losing her final match on the tour to Silvia Farina, 6-3, 6-4, at the Porsche Grand Prix.

Soccer

FIFA Drug Tests

FIFA said it will start out-of-competition drug tests in Europe next spring, a major step in bringing its anti-doping policy closer in line with the International Olympic Committee.

As of next season, the world's top players will be subject to such testing by a FIFA-managed team of drug experts, wherever they play around the world, officials said.

The system will start during the preparation campaigns of the 16 national teams, which will compete in the June 10-July 2 European championships in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Colleges

Hoyas' Rienzo Honored

Georgetown Senior Athletic Director Frank Rienzo received the 1999 Eastern College Athletic Conference's Distinguished Achievement Award in a ceremony Monday night in Hyannis, Mass.

Rienzo, who came to Georgetown as a track coach in 1969, was one of the four founders of the Big East Conference and served as chair of the Big East executive committee during nine of the conference's first 13 years. Rienzo was promoted to athletic director in 1972 and oversaw the construction of Georgetown's Yates Field House, which has a 400-meter track and football field on its roof.

CAPTION: Andre Agassi, above, defeated Jan Siemerink, 6-3, 6-4, in first round of Swiss Indoors tournament in Basel.