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Nelly Korda shining at US Women’s Open ‘like she never left’

Nelly Korda sits nine shots back of U.S. Open leader Minjee Lee entering the final round Sunday. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — Nelly Korda walked onto the driving range at Pine Needles Golf Club at 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, an hour ahead of her tee time for her first competitive round in almost four months. A volunteer at the U.S. Women’s Open turned to her before she started her warmup and asked her how she felt after being sidelined since March with a blood clot in her left arm.

“Happy it’s over,” Korda responded.

Three rounds later, Korda is playing like she never left the LPGA Tour. The No. 2 player in the world, despite finishing the third round Saturday with three bogeys in a row, has shot under par in every round of the U.S. Women’s Open. She enters the final round Sunday at four-under and nine shots back of leader Minjee Lee, with much more on her mind than winning.

“I’m just happy to be out here, even though that was a tough pill to swallow,” she said Saturday after her bogey-filled back nine. “I still have one more day, and I’m doing what I love and I’m out here in the heat competing at the U.S. Women’s Open. A couple months back, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be doing that.”

One of the first people Korda told about her uncertain status back in March was close friend Megan Khang. Before Korda announced publicly that she had been diagnosed with a blood clot, and later that she had undergone surgery for it, Khang learned that Korda would be stepping away from the tour. She reminded her friend and the top American golfer on tour that the sport should come second to her health.

During the four-month break, the 23-year-old told Khang she wanted to get back to the course. Khang — who had been spending more time off the course with Korda’s older sister, Jessica, in her absence — encouraged her to return only when she was 100 percent.

“You know Nelly,” Khang said. “She’s a super great competitor. She’s just a different kind of breed in the best way.”

Sophia Popov, a longtime friend of Jessica Korda, could relate to her sister’s situation. The 2020 AIG Women’s Open Champion battled an unknown condition on tour for years, and was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2017. Popov, knowing how hard it is for any golfer at the top of their game to be away from the game for an extended period of time, watched as Korda dedicated herself to her rehab, working out and dieting to return to full strength.

Before the start of Korda’s warmup on the range Thursday, Popov hugged her.

“I just think she’s a staple out here right now,” Popov said of the seven-time LPGA Tour champion. “I think that’s important to keep her around because it’s more exciting to watch.”

The fans at Pine Needles have felt the same way, standing three to four rows deep along the ropes during Korda’s three rounds. She said the crowds following her were some of the biggest she’d seen on tour, and that the youngest supporters have brought her some of her greatest joys this weekend.

“I really, really love when the little kids and little girls kind of scream my name,” she said. “Some of them even ask me for an autograph during the round, and I just can’t say no. I’m just so happy to be out here.”

Korda’s fans range from teens gleefully taking selfies with her in the background, to young kids getting their first autographs from one of their favorite athletes. They will surely be watching as the 23-year-old aims to climb the leaderboard Sunday and punctuate her return to the tour.

“Nelly’s competing like she never left. It’s always great to see,” Khang said. “And as a friend, I’m super happy she’s feeling healthy and back up for the challenge week in and week out.”

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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