Tiger Woods skipped The Masters this year for the first time in 20 years because he was recuperating from back surgery. But his back may not be the only source of his pain. Last month, in a contentious business dispute, Woods also was knocked off the leader board by a jury that, after two hours of deliberation, returned a verdict against Woods for over $668,000. While Woods has excelled over the years at The Masters – what golf fan doesn't have an image of Woods in his Sunday final round red shirt/black slacks outfit strolling the gorgeous No. 13 Azalea hole at Augusta – this past March, he could not chip his way out of trouble in a long-running litigation in Florida over licensed autographs and memorabilia.
Bruce Matthews, plaintiff in the suit against Woods, is the owner of Gotta Have It Golf, Inc., a sports memorabilia retailer that specializes in golf. Gotta Have It accused Woods of failing to honor a 2001 licensing agreement, pursuant to which Woods's company, ETW Corp., was supposed to provide a certain number of autographs and photographs.According to the plaintiff's claims, ETW fell short of the 1,300 autographs required under the agreement, provided only 550 autographs in 2003 and denied Gotta Have It the use of certain photographs. Gotta Have It sued for breach of contract, breach of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing and violation of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Fellow golf legend (and inspiration for the eponymous summer beverage) Arnold Palmer was also named as a defendant in the suit and was accused of violating the same licensing agreement with his company Arnold Palmer Enterprises. Indeed, Palmer, Woods, Matthews and Gotta Have It are a longtime foursome, having been involved in a prior suit in the late '90s, also over sports memorabilia. While Palmer's company settled the current suit outside of court in 2003, Woods refused to let Matthews play through and elected to go to trial.
Unfortunately for Woods, slow and steady did not win the race, despite everything the sport of golf presumably has taught him. After upwards of a decade in litigation (with Woods even taking the stand at the Florida trial), Tiger scored a hole in none on March 12, when a jury found in favor of Gotta Have It on its breach of contract and other related claims, rejected ETW's breach of contract counterclaims, and awarded Gotta Have It $668,346 in damages. (Gotta Have It Golf, Inc. v. Arnold Palmer Enterprises, Inc., No. 03-19490 (Fla. Cir. Ct. Jury Verdict Mar. 12, 2014). The award may move north of $1 million once interest has been factored in.
While Woods's quest for a 15th major is still ongoing, golf fans and court watchers alike should not dismay if they find this sort of thing interesting – it appears that ETW may appeal the verdict. Perhaps more appealing, Woods fans can follow his official blog about the progress of his rehab and musings on his personal activities since the surgery. Spoiler alert: Woods gives a shout out to his new bestie Tony Romo who had "the exact same procedure" and offers updates on his new golf course design projects in Cabo San Lucas (El Cardonal) and in Montgomery, Texas (Bluejack National), activities that we can assume take his mind at least a fairway wood away from the Florida courtroom.