The saga of Tiger Woods is known to even the most casual sports fan. He was a young golf prodigy, a man whose ancestry was comprised of several different races, who at a young age became the world’s most dominant athlete, in a sport notoriously inhospitable to nonwhite people. All the while, he collected endorsements like no athlete since Michael Jordan, while making golf itself more popular than ever before.
Then, his career began to decline due to serious knee and back injuries, and he suffered one of the all-time great falls from grace when a car accident on Thanksgiving night in 2010 led to the disclosure that Woods had conducted a superhuman number of extramarital affairs. This led to his divorce and further decline before the golfer made a triumphant comeback and won the Masters in 2019.
Now, a new two-part, more than three-hour documentary, called simply Tiger, tells the entire story. The film, directed by Matthew Heineman and Matthew Hamachek, debuts on HBO and HBO Max Sunday, with the second part arriving a week later. The first half consists mostly of the story of Woods’ rise, while the second half is about the fall, including the sex scandal, before concluding with his 2019 win.
While it covers Woods’ entire story, the film feels incomplete, for a few reasons. Woods’ life could absolutely sustain a lengthy doc series in the tradition of The Last Dance, but Tiger is nothing like that. For one thing, it doesn’t share much about Woods’ life and career that wasn’t previously known, and for another, Woods himself did not participate and is not interviewed.
Nor did his ex-wife, Elin, or most of the crucial members of his entourage. We hear from some rivals of Woods, from some family friends, from his ex-caddie Steve Williams, and from both an early girlfriend of the golfer’s and Rachel Uchitel, the most prominent of Woods’ mistresses.
There are also interviews with Gary Smith, the now-retired Sports Illustrated writer who was long the best magazine profile writer in the country and at the other end of the spectrum, from one particularly noxious National Enquirer staffer. This is not a project, needless to say, that makes the tabloid media look very defensible.
There’s plenty of golf footage, which is very well-put-together, especially the 2008 U.S. Open and other notable triumphs. But most of what we see of Woods off the course comes from news footage and old interviews, and for some reason, the film feels the need to include just about every talk show appearance Tiger ever did- even when, as in most cases, he had nothing particularly funny or memorable to say.
The major throughline of the Tiger documentary is Woods’ relationship with his father, Earl Woods, who put a golf club in Tiger’s hands when he was a baby and molded him into a young prodigy. Earl pushed Tiger to be great, certainly, but their relationship was at times strained, and Earl was himself a prolific philanderer, which implicitly lead to Tiger’s own proclivities in that area.
Tiger became particularly unmoored following Earl’s death in 2006, at one point making a habit of training with the Navy SEALs, and seeming to think that he was himself a SEAL, which the film argues has something to do with his father having been a military officer.
The Earl stuff was essentially the thesis of Tiger Woods, the generally acclaimed 2018 biography of the golfer by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, both of whom are listed as executive producers of the film (along with such documentary stalwarts as Alex Gibney and Sam Pollard.) The book also didn’t get any cooperation with Woods, although his camp did complain about it after publication.
Tiger Woods buffs will enjoy looking back on all of these stories, although after watching it, I’m still not sure I know much more about Tiger Woods, as a person, than I did before I watched it. And despite more than an hour of material about the sex scandal, I’m not entirely clear on exactly what caused that car accident on Thanksgiving.