Cubs have Opening Day lineup set, but Mather will keep pushing

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Cubs have Opening Day lineup set, but Mather will keep pushing

MESA, Ariz. Joe Mathers wrist felt good enough to grab the job by the throat.

Thats how Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described the impression Mather made on the coaching staff and the front office this spring. After multiple surgeries, Mather finally feels healthy, and notices the ball jumping off his bat again.

Mather woke up on Friday hitting .418 with 11 extra-base hits, already knowing that he made the team. He appears to be over a wrist problem similar to the one that has plagued ex-Cub Mark DeRosa, whos been limited to just 73 games combined over the last two seasons and is now in camp with the Washington Nationals.

Its something that they tell you takes six weeks to heal, Mather said. And when you come back, you find out thats not necessarily the case. You lose a lot of the whip in your swing and kind of everything that you taught yourself to do. You have to adjust.

After years of frustration, its gone smooth enough that manager Dale Sveum has talked about riding out Mathers hot bat for as long as possible, and called him a perfect fit for a team that has left-handed corner players.

Sveum said the lineup he wrote out for Fridays game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at HoHoKam Stadium looks like the one you will see on Opening Day at Wrigley Field against the Nationals:

1. David DeJesus, RF (L)
2. Darwin Barney, 2B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Bryan LaHair, 1B (L)
5. Alfonso Soriano, LF
6. Ian Stewart, 3B (L)
7. Marlon Byrd, CF
8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Ryan Dempster, P
Mathers not in there, but it sounds like he can take some at-bats and become much more than the 25th man on the roster. He can play first and third base and in Sveums mind all three outfield spots at an above-average level. He once even pitched two innings for the St. Louis Cardinals during a 20-inning loss to the New York Mets in 2010.

I told him in his meeting: Youre a guy who can do a lot of things, Sveum said. Hes the kind of guy that you just ride out, whatever position it might be (and) hopefully it will last a long time.

Dont ever think youre just a bench player and youre not going to be pushing somebody to play every day.

Mather, 29, has spent time on the Triple-A level in each of the past five seasons. He went to high school in the Phoenix area and lives here in the offseason, which gave him a support system that helped him stay focused and relaxed during camp.

Mather showed enough power for the Cardinals in 2008 eight homers in 133 at-bats that you wonder how much more is in there now that hes back at full strength.

I think if someone would have told me that I (would have) this (kind) of camp, Mather said, I would have been jumping up and down. Its been awesome. They gave me quite a bit of opportunity and I was able to play well. It feels really good to take advantage.

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

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Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

ATLANTA (AP) — Dustin Johnson had a reasonable lie in the rough and only a few pine tree branches blocking his path to the 17th green. Neither seemed like a problem until he played the wrong shot, clipped the tree and wound up with a double bogey Saturday in the Tour Championship.

It was an example of how one hole can change everything at East Lake.

And it's why the final round of the PGA Tour season suddenly has more scenarios than Johnson cares to consider.

Johnson recovered with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 18th for a 1-under 69, giving him a share of the lead with Kevin Chappell (68) going into the last round that will determine who wins the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

For the first time since 2009, there's a chance it might not be the same player.

"There's a lot of scenarios that could happen," Johnson said. "But yeah, I'm still going to go out and try to shoot as low a score as possible."

Johnson only has to win or finish second alone to claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Rory McIlroy, who has gone 28 holes without a bogey at East Lake, had three birdies over his last six holes for a 66 and was two shots behind. If he were to win the Tour Championship and Johnson finished in a two-way tie for second or worse, McIlroy would claim the FedEx Cup.

"It would just be great to try to win the Tour Championship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it," McIlroy said.

The winner of the Tour Championship has won the FedEx Cup every year since 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the tournament and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup.

Johnson led by as many as four shots when he ran off three straight birdies on the front nine, and he really didn't do much wrong to give up the size of that lead. He had a three-putt from 70 feet on No. 13, and missed the fairway by a few feet on the next hole, enough that his ball was buried so deep that even Johnson and his power couldn't advance more than about 135 yards.

It was the 17th hole that reshaped the tournament.

Johnson tried to played a fade from a flyer lie in the rough, and the ball came out high and hit a branch, leaving him in more rough about 60 yards short of the green. He put that in the bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and missed the putt to make double bogey.

Chappell rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for a three-shot swing on the hole and suddenly had the lead, only for Johnson to catch him with the final birdie.

They were at 8-under 202.

Chappell, a runner-up three times this season who has never won on the PGA Tour, has made only one bogey in 54 holes this week, a show of consistency, discipline and a few good breaks when he does miss the fairway.

His next chance at a breakthrough victory is to face golf's best player at the moment (Johnson), with McIlroy and Ryan Moore (66) two shots behind.

"I've always kind of been the underdog, so it's a role I'm comfortable in," Chappell said.

Moore went out in 31 until he was slowed by a pair of bogeys, though very much in the mix just two shots out of the lead. The mystery is whether anything he does on Sunday - even if that means a victory - is enough for Davis Love III to use his last captain's pick on Moore for the Ryder Cup.

"I came here this week to win a golf tournament, and I'm 100 percent focused on that," Moore said, adding that the Ryder Cup is "completely out of my control."

And that's how the last day is shaping up for everyone - post a score and see where it leads.

Johnson, for a moment, looked as though he might take all the drama out of the season-ender when he made a 15-foot par putt early in his round and then ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to go four shots clear.

The putter cooled off, however, and Chappell stayed in range.

Chappell chipped in on No. 12 to match birdies and stay three shots behind, and then he quickly closed the gap when Johnson made back-to-back bogeys, only to respond with a 4-iron over the water to a peninsula green on the par-3 15th to 15 feet for birdie.

The 17th hole changed everything.

"I thought about just trying to hit it in the front bunker, which I probably should have done - probably would have made 4 if I'd have done that," Johnson said. "But it is what it is. I came back and birdied the last hole, tied for the lead going into tomorrow. I like my position."

And he doesn't need a degree in math to figure out the easiest scenario - just win.

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