Baker-Finch named assistant captain for Presidents Cup

— -- AKRON, Ohio -- Gary Player had no trouble making his two captain's picks for the Presidents Cup. The hard part was finding an assistant captain for the International team. Player finally selected former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch, the congenial Australian who will be helping out for the third time. Baker-Finch also was the assistant captain in 1996 under Peter Thomson and in 2003 under Player when the matches ended in a tie in South Africa. "The assistant was supposed to be the alternate," Baker-Finch said Friday. "Gary told me a few months ago that he would get a player who was unlucky not to make the team. I'm happy to be back." Player first wanted Nick Price, who failed to make the International team for the first time, but was turned down. "He wanted to make the team, and it was just a letdown not making the team that he'd like to be excused from being the vice captain," Player said Tuesday. He also asked Steve Elkington, who many figured would be a captain's pick after his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship. Player instead took Peter Lonard and Trevor Immelman, and Elkington wasn't interested in riding around the Robert Trent Jones Club with only a radio. Others that Players wanted for his assistant were Robert Allenby and Craig Parry. Baker-Finch had no trouble being on a waiting list, and he has no interest in becoming captain one day. "I'm happy to be assistant captain," he said. "If I ever get to be captain, by the time it gets to me, a lot of other guys -- Nicky Price, Greg Norman -- all those guys should be captain before me." U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus will have Jeff Sluman for the second straight time.

A real monster
The 16th hole at Firestone already is a beast at 667 yards, and it played like one Friday. The pin was all the way to the right, squeezed behind the large pond and in front of deep rough. The tree-lined fairway blocked some of the wind, which was helping the players. It was difficult to pull the right club, and it showed in the scores. Davis Love III was 4 under par when he put his third shot into the water, his fifth shot over the green, then had to make a 3-footer for a triple-bogey 8. Vijay Singh was at 5 under and tied for the lead when his third shot came up short and into the water. He holed a chip with a fairway metal just off the green to save bogey. There were only nine birdies, and it ranked as the third-hardest hole. Five players made double bogey, while Love had triple bogey and Chris Riley made a quadruple-bogey 9. Tiger Woods narrowly escaped a big number. His tee shot went off a cart path into the trees. He tried to punch out to the fairway, but it rolled into a bunker 163 yards to the hole over the water. He hit 8-iron to 20 feet and two-putted for par. "Just play it like I did," he said. "Lay up to a full 8-iron out of the bunker." Three players tried to reach the green in two. Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke came up just short and both made birdie; Stuart Appleby's second shot hit the green and went over, and he had to settle for par.

New title sponsor
Firestone is getting a new title sponsor for the first time since 1984. The Akron Beacon Journal reported Friday that Bridgestone Corp., the Tokyo-based tire company, will take over as title sponsor of the World Golf Championship starting in 2006. Details were expected to be announced on Sunday, although it is believed that the deal will run through 2010, keeping the tournament at Firestone the next five years. NEC took over as title sponsor in 1984 when the tournament was known as the World Series of Golf, and it became the NEC Invitational when it became a WGC event in 1999. Bridgestone bought Akron-based Firestone Tire & Rubber Co in 1998, but it never owned Firestone Country Club. Firestone sold its country club to ClubCorp of American in 1981.

Starting times have been moved up in the third round to avoid thunderstorms in the forecast Saturday afternoon. Players will go off from both tees in threesomes starting, and the round is to be finished by 2 p.m. ET. ... Marc Cayeux of Zimbabwe, the 27-year-old who played with Woods in his U.S. debut, had a 75 and was at 6-over 146. ... Mike Weir shot a 69, his first round in the 60s since he shot a 68 in the third round of the Masters.