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Jennifer Kupcho’s record-setting round sets up championship chase

Kupcho waves to the crowd after holing one of her nine birdies on Saturday. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The 51st and final edition of the Chevron Championship at the Dinah Shore course started with a celebration of the end of the longest-running women’s major.

Jennifer Kupcho shot an eight-under 64 on Saturday, setting the 54-hole tournament scoring record to take a six-stroke lead and sit 18 holes away from her coronation as a major champion.

“Everything was working,” Kupcho said, “I mean seriously, this week I think my putting is definitely the props. I have putted really well, and you got to make putts in a major championship.”

After watching the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in the morning to keep her mind off of what was ahead of her, Kupcho scorched the Coachella Valley. She birdied the second and third holes to move into a three-way tie for the lead at 10-under par alongside Patty Tavatanakit and 36-hole leader Hinako Shibuno. From there, the rout was on.

Kupcho birdied the fourth and fifth holes to make it four birdies in a row, with her 10-foot putt on the sixth narrowly sliding by the low side of the cup and keeping her from extending the streak to five.

Kupcho posted a five-under 31 on the front nine, giving a quick wave to the fans after dropping an eight-footer on the eighth for birdie.

The 2019 August National Women’s Amateur champion continued to pour it on from there, birdieing three in a row on the back nine to pull away at 16-under and threaten the tournament-record 62 Lydia Ko set in the final round last year.

Kupcho carded a birdie, a bogey and four pars the rest of the way to sign her card. The 24-year-old’s 200 total strokes earned her the 54-hole scoring record and bested the previous record of 202 set by Tavatanakit (2021) and Pernilla Lindberg (2018).

Kupcho couldn’t quite pinpoint where this round ranks among her all-time best, but she credited her mental game and her putting for helping her make history.

“It’s all a blur,” Kupcho said, “You’re just out there grinding shot by shot. I think that’s one thing I’ve really done well this week, is taking it shot by shot and not thinking about the end result.”

Instead of sports, Kupcho plans to watch “Bridgerton” ahead of her Sunday afternoon tee time. If she polishes off the victory Sunday, she will become the first American to win the Chevron Championship since Brittany Lincicome in 2015.

Tavatanakit, the defending Chevron champion, sits in second at 10-under par, a bit of a disappointment given how she started the day. The Thai native hit two birdies on the first two holes to get to 10-under with 16 to play. She struggled to maintain her momentum from there, carding three bogeys to fall to six back of the lead.

Tavatanakit will need a near historic comeback to reenter the winner’s circle Sunday. The most strokes a player has overcome to win the Chevron Championship was seven in 2006, when Karrie Webb, the Australian Hall of Famer, holed out for eagle on the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Lorena Ochoa.

Tavatanakit said she was up for the challenge.

“I like chasing,” Tavatanakit said, “Better feeling. You play without fear, and I love doing that.”

If Tavatanakit were to pull it off, she would be the first golfer to defend her title at the Chevron Championship since Annika Sorenstam in 2001 and ’02.

Entering Sunday, Jessica Korda is the only other player within seven strokes of Kupcho. The 29-year-old’s five-under 67 came from a clean front nine, where she went bogey-free for four-under par.

A six-time LPGA winner, Korda has the most victories on tour for a player without a major championship on her resume. Despite the drought, Korda has learned from experience that there is always a chance. She need look no further than last year, when Ko cut into Tavanakit’s 54-hole lead with a final-round 62.

“I was three-over through, like, seven on the first day,” Korda said. “I’m never out of it.”

Shibuno, the leader after 36 holes, said she felt nervous at the start of her third round, especially on her drives and approach shots. The 2019 AIG Women’s Open Champion shot a five-over par 77 on Saturday and sits four-under entering the final round.

“My shots were left, right, to the left,” Shibuno said through her translator. “Tough day today.”

The day concluded with the sun setting over the looming San Jacinto Mountains, giving off purple and yellow hues one last time at the Chevron Championship.

From the LPGA’s 51-year history at the course, the players will remember the swaying palm trees, the burning desert heat and the roars of crowds. And whoever comes out on top Sunday will walk away with their name etched into the final slot of the tournament record books at Dinah Shore.

“I mean, just to be out here, I love this place,” Kupcho said. “I love stepping on this property. You just get positive vibes. It’s such a beautiful course, so I think I’m just taking it all in.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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