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Awards season: Handing out the 2016 Rexys

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Think of the year-ending Rexys as more Globetrotters than Golden Globes, but the aftermath is similar with honorees often left confused and cranky, and the committee on the hook for the bar tab.

Participation Prize. Not since middle school has an athlete accomplished so much outside the winner's circle and in 2016 the Participation nod goes to a pair of impressive also-rans in Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.

Kuchar wasn't even qualified for the Olympics until the 11th hour when a collection of high-profile no-shows combined with his tie for third at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational bumped him to 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking and into the Games, where he rallied with a final-round 63 to claim the bronze medal.

 Lefty had a similarly understated year, finishing second to Henrik Stenson at The Open after narrowly missing a putt for 62 in the opening round at Royal Troon. But it was at September’s Ryder Cup where Mickelson made his year by helping lead the U.S. team to victory and validate the changes to the U.S. system that he helped championed.

Phoenix Award. He was a ghost for much of the year, an urban legend with sightings at regular intervals but nothing definitive until Tiger Woods committed to, and played, the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

He tied for 15th in a 17-player field with an equal mix of birdies and bogeys. Rust was the primary culprit for Woods’ play at the Challenge and his return sparked an avalanche of optimism heading into 2017, but after a year of relative obscurity just making it to the first tee at Albany was an accomplishment of mythical proportions.

Wrong Address Acknowledgment. In November, USGA executive director Mike Davis referred to Rule 18-2 as a “God-forsaken” rule, and few, particularly Dustin Johnson, would argue with him.

The rule, which deals with a ball moving after a player has addressed it, cost Johnson a stroke but not the title at the U.S. Open when a surreal chain of events led to the bomber finishing his round unsure if he had a four- or five-stroke lead.

Earlier this month, Davis followed through on a promise to adjust the rule, eliminating the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.

Bronze Medal. Kuchar and China’s Shanshan Feng may have taken home the proper “show” medals at this year’s Games, but from 30,000 feet golf’s return to the Olympics deserves an acknowledgment of qualified success.

Many of the top players in the men’s game declined to make the trip to Rio, citing everything from concerns over the Zika virus to scheduling problems, and the legacy left behind (the Olympic Golf Course) is in danger of succumbing to the indifferent forces of nature and South American politics.

But the competition was inspiring and, for those who did make the trip to Brazil, the spectacle of the Games went well beyond what many envisioned.

There’s room for improvement before golf arrives in Japan for the 2020 Olympics, but a bronze medal isn’t a bad consolation prize – just ask Kuchar.

Mulligan Mug. He’d been down this rabbit hole before, endured the rigors of a two-year process that is consuming and cruel. But still, Davis Love III took the gig as U.S. Ryder Cup captain because his friends, the players, contended he was the right man for the job.

The result was a dramatic U.S. victory at Hazeltine National and a .500 record for Love, who lost his first turn as captain in 2012.

Love probably hasn’t taken a mulligan on the golf course since his late father, the legendary swing instructor Davis Love Jr., put a club in his hands, but if anyone needed a do-over it was Captain America.

Gold Watch. By many accounts, Tim Finchem didn’t receive an expensive timepiece when he officially stepped down as commissioner of the PGA Tour in November.

There were various gifts from friends and colleagues, there was even a five-minute standing ovation from tournament directors earlier this month, but no gold watch.

 What else would you give the man who spent more than two decades forging golf’s future? Not all of Finchem’s decisions were popular, not all of them made sense, but there is no debating that he led, and that has to be worth a valuable keepsake.

Make-Good Mug. FedEx Cup math be damned. After being pencil whipped at East Lake in the past, Rory McIlroy finally cleared the $10 million hurdle this season.

In 2012, the Northern Irishman began the week of the Tour Championship with a commanding lead in the points race only to drop the title to Brandt Snedeker; and in ’14 he finished third in the playoff race despite top-10 finishes at three of the four post-season stops.

But in September, McIlroy made the math easy, outdueling Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore in extra holes to claim the FedEx Cup and a well-deserved make-good.

Courage Award. Actually, the Courage Award is an honor occasionally given out by the Tour, but we’re borrowing it to give to Sam Saunders, who spoke so eloquently in September at his grandfather Arnold Palmer’s funeral.

“He would always take my phone call, always,” Saunders said, before recalling the time Palmer answered his phone while he was in the Oval Office.

“He said, ‘I’m with the president,’” Saunders said. “I said, ‘The president of what?’ And he said to me as if it was so obvious, ‘Of the United States.’”

The golf world lost a piece of itself with the passing of Palmer, and Saunders’ grace and humility was an apropos homage to everything The King stood for.