Although Tiger Woods' 2014 season is off to a rocky start and has featured plenty of struggles on the course, the 14-time major winner is also making headlines for his strife off of it.
But a recent autograph lawsuit is the least of the 38-year-old's concerns as he gears up for the year's first major next month.
On Wednesday night, Woods lost his civil lawsuit with Miami resident Bruce Matthews and his business, Gotta Have It Golf Inc., after a jury found that Woods' company ETW "engaged in deceptive and unfair trade practices," according to The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
The jury awarded Matthews damages of $668,000, which are projected to be closer to $1.3 million after interest is taken into account, per Matthews' attorney Eric Isicoff via Jackson:
"This has been a long time coming. The behavior of ETW Corporation has been reprehensible and we are very pleased with the jury’s verdict."
Woods' company is expected to appeal, according to Jackson. But either way, Woods' No. 1 obstacle in terms of returning to the top of his golf game and winning his first tournament of 2014 is his diminishing health.
As one of the greatest players to ever pick up a golf club, Woods clearly possesses the mental toughness to block out surrounding drama and sometimes even pain (recall the 2008 U.S. Open). However, the nagging back injury that forced Woods to withdraw from the final round of the Honda Classic earlier this month is proving more difficult than any other potential distraction, on or off the course.
The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson breaks down Woods' latest setback in his journey to unseat Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golf champion of all time, via The Huffington Post:
The problem now for Woods is it's hard to have any conversation about him without mentioning his health. The biggest rival for Woods at age 38 might be a body that by his own account appears to be breaking down.
While Woods' struggles in the courtroom will only further damage his already injured reputation, they hardly present a speed bump on the course, where his physical limitations are sure to weigh heavily on his mind.
According to ESPN.com's Bob Harig, Woods intends to play the upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on March 20 after receiving additional treatment on his back. But by then, the lawsuit ruling will be in his rearview mirror. Therefore, the key to Woods winning his ninth title at the event and third straight overall will be overcoming any back pain that may arise over the course of the weekend.
By the time the Arnold Palmer Invitational arrives next week, the conversation will no longer center on Woods' lawsuit but on his health instead.
Unfortunately, the latter could prove much more crippling.
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