Cuban pitcher Livan Hernandez would be eligible to play for Puerto Rico in next year's inaugural World Baseball Classic if he wants to, a U.S. Major League Baseball official said yesterday.

The Washington Nationals ace has expressed interest in playing for Puerto Rico, telling local media in October "it would be a pleasure and something very important to me" to represent the U.S. territory.

Hernandez has a house in Puerto Rico and owns a local professional women's volleyball team.

Mike Teevan, a spokesman for MLB, said the rules allow Hernandez to request permission to play for a team other than his native Cuba. "If he wants to pitch for a country other than Cuba, he'll have to make a request explaining why he wants to pitch for another team and not his country of origin," Teevan said.

Hernandez defected from Cuba in 1995, and went on to help the Florida Marlins win the World Series two years later.

Cuba hasn't said if it will participate in the World Baseball Classic. The 16-nation, 18-day tournament will start on March 3 in Asia, where Group A will include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

* GOLF: David Howell finally felt comfortable while walking the 18th fairway -- he no longer had to worry about Tiger Woods.

Howell won the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai yesterday by three strokes. Woods needed to make up three shots in the final three holes, but his comeback ended when his tee shot went into the water on the 16th hole.

Howell closed with a 4-under-par 68 that left him at 20-under 268. Woods had a 70 for 271, a runner-up for the second straight week. The $5 million event is the richest in Asia. Howell earned a first prize of $833,300. . . .

Kenny Perry and John Huston won the Franklin Templeton Shootout in Naples, Fla., combining for a 13-under 59 in the scramble format for a one-stroke victory over Fred Couples and Adam Scott. . . .

U.S. Solheim Cup star Christina Kim won her second career title, closing with a 5-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over Australia's Rachel Hetherington in the Mitchell Company LPGA Tournament of Champions in Mobile, Ala.

* COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Geno Auriemma, who has coached Connecticut to five national titles, will enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this spring.

He will be joined by former Texas all-American Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, Louisiana Tech star Janice Lawrence Braxton, former Georgia all-American Katrina McClain Johnson, Bentley College Coach Barbara Stevens and Brazilian Olympian Maria Paula Goncalves da Silva. . . .

Induction ceremonies at the hall are April 28-29 in Knoxville, Tenn.

* TENNIS: Amelie Mauresmo outlasted Mary Pierce, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, in a marathon baseline slugfest to win the WTA Championships in Los Angeles for the biggest title of her career.

Mauresmo double-faulted to trail love-40 in the final game, but rallied on five consecutive errors by Pierce in the first all-French final of the championships. . . .

Not quite sure what to expect of his game, Roger Federer began his bid for a third straight Tennis Masters Cup title with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Argentina's David Nalbandian in Shanghai.

Federer, recovering from a sprained ankle, was playing his first match in seven weeks and moved smoothly in the season-ending championship.

In the day's other match, Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia defeated Guillermo Coria of Argentina, 6-2, 6-3.

* SAILING: Three yachts in the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race suffered storm damage during the first day at sea.

The Disney-sponsored Pirates of the Caribbean and movistar, the Spanish entry, were expected to repair damage in port. Pirates will attempt repairs most likely in Lisbon, while movistar will head to Cadiz on the southwestern tip of Spain.

* SPEEDSKATING: Apolo Anton Ohno won the 3,000 meters, capturing his second gold medal at the World Cup short-track meet in Bormio, Italy.

The American won in 5 minutes 44.636 seconds, beating South Korea's Lee Ho Suk and Ahn Hyun Soo in a meet that will help determine qualifiers for the Turin Olympics in February.

Jin Sun Yu of South Korea set a world record of 1:30.037 in the women's 1,000, eclipsing the previous mark of 1:30.171 set last month by Wang Meng of China.

-- From News Services