A lot is on the line at Riviera Country Club, including the national player-of-the-year awards. This year’s fabulous freshmen – Texas’ Jordan Spieth, Alabama’s Justin Thomas and Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers – are among the front-runners for the Jack Nicklaus Award and Golfweek’s College Player of the Year honor. Nothing will be settled until the national championship is awarded, though.
Here are the top five candidates. Spieth starts the week as the favorite, but could be overtaken if one of the other contenders can claim the NCAA title. Matt Hill is the last player to win the national championship and Nicklaus Award in the same season. He did so in 2009.
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JORDAN SPIETH, Texas freshman
Golfweek/Sagarin rank: 1
Strength of schedule: 5
Wins: 3 (Isleworth Collegiate Invitational; ^ Amer Ari Invitational; ^ Morris Williams Intercollegiate)
The skinny: Spieth’s record speaks for itself. The only dent in his resume is that he was co-medalist in two of his three wins. That could count against him if Alabama freshman Justin Thomas, who’s won four times, wins the NCAA title or beats Spieth by a good margin at Riviera. Spieth is 2-1 against Thomas, the nation’s No. 2 player, beating him by 13 strokes in their three common meetings, though
^ – co-medalist
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JUSTIN THOMAS, Alabama freshman
Golfweek/Sagarin rank: 2
Strength of schedule: 17
Wins: 4 (Carpet Capital Collegiate, Puerto Rico Classic, SEC Championship, NCAA Southeast Regional)
The skinny: Thomas is the only of the top player-of-the-year contenders with an opportunity to sweep the postseason. He already won the SEC Championship and NCAA Southeast Regional. He’s also the only player who could overtake Spieth without a win at Riviera, though he’d need to beat Spieth by a good margin to win the award.
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DYLAN FRITTELLI, Texas senior
Golfweek/Sagarin rank: 3
Strength of schedule: 9
Wins: 1 (Morris Williams Intercollegiate*)
The skinny: Only having one win, which he shared with teammates Spieth and Julio Vegas, is a dent in Frittelli’s resume. He was runner-up four times this year.
* – co-medalist
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PATRICK RODGERS, Stanford freshman
Golfweek/Sagarin rank: 4
Strength of schedule: 14
Wins: 2 (Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational; Western Intercollegiate)
The skinny: It’s been a stellar freshman season for Rodgers, but he’ll likely need a win to topple his Walker Cup teammate from his perch atop the player-of-the-year race.
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CHRIS WILLIAMS, Washington junior
Golfweek/Sagarin rank: 5
Strength of schedule: 45
Wins: 3 (Kikkor Husky Invitational; Bandon Dunes Championship; NCAA Southwest Regional)
The skinny: Williams, a member of last year’s U.S. Walker Cup team, likely needs a win at the NCAA Championship to garner player-of-the-year honors. His candidacy isn’t helped by the fact that the Husky Invitational was shortened to 18 holes due to weather or that he has four finishes outside the top-10.