In nearly a quarter century in the spotlight, Tiger Woods—now the subject of a definitive two-part HBO Max documentary—has at once been one of the most recognizable athletes in the world and one of the least well-understood. An incomparable phenom who broke both records and racial barriers, the man inside the public image has remained a mystery to many, shrouded in a shell built over a lifetime to sustain the immense pressure of being Tiger Woods. Trained from birth to be the greatest, he rose to stunning heights before crashing down, only to climb his way back up once again.
The Gist: At this point in history, more of Tiger Woods’ life has been lived in the spotlight than not, and the highs and lows of his career and personal life are familiar to even casual sports fans. He was the most successful amateur golfer ever before turning pro at 20, and shortly thereafter stunned the world by winning the 1997 Masters by a record-breaking 12 strokes, starting a run of success nearly unparalleled in sports history. His personal demons rode with him the entire way, though, and his breakdown and divorce made headlines around the world. This two-part, three-hour-long documentary seeks to put the entire story of Tiger in context, painting a portrait of a man driven to be the best no matter what the cost.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: In portraying a world-famous athlete driven to be the best that there ever was while haunted by personal demons and forever living in his father’s shadow, it immediately brings to mind the Michael Jordan-specific portions of ESPN’s The Last Dance.
Performance Worth Watching: Numerous figures from Tiger’s early life make appearances in the documentary, including family friends, his kindergarten teacher, his first girlfriend and his former caddy, but none steal the show quite like his mistress Rachel Uchitel, who agreed to at-length on-screen interviews for the film.
Memorable Dialogue: “They all thought he was a pain in the ass, and I agreed,” notes kindergarten teacher Maureen Decker about the feelings of her fellow teachers about the oppressive presence of Tiger’s performance-obsessed father Earl in the young man’s life.
Sex and Skin: Nothing shown on screen, though there are non-explicit references to Woods’ much-publicized extramarital dalliances.
Our Take: You don’t have to be an avid fan of golf to find interest in this meticulously-crafted documentary; there are a precious few athletes who transcend their sport to become global icons, but Tiger Woods is unquestionably one of those athletes. This intimate look afforded by Tiger brings much-needed context to his story, painting an almost Shakespearean tale of how he came to be the figure we all know.
Tiger Woods made wide swaths of the population care about a sport they never had before—including Black fans inspired by someone who looked like them breaking the barriers of a historically-white sport, but also fans of all races who’d found golf to be a staid, boring, old man’s country club pastime. He rewrote the playbook for sports marketing, became a video game character, and was nearly synonymous with his sport for the last quarter-century. He felt the pressure to be everything to everyone from a very early age, and it eventually cracked him.
Much of this story rests on Earl Woods. Tiger worshipped his father and lived to please him, but lived much of his life in the older man’s shadow. The film paints a portrait of an overbearing father monomaniacally focused on crafting his son into the greatest golfer of all time, starting from when Tiger was just a toddler. “I know I was personally selected by god to nurture this young man to be the greatest that ever lived,” the elder Woods once noted, and he would let nothing stand in the way of that goal. Young Tiger was barred from playing other sports, sheltered from normal childhood activities, driven full-force toward his father’s goal—a goal that was eventually realized, with him becoming arguably the best that ever played and inarguably a hugely-wealthy global icon.
There’s a cost to those dreams, to borrow a line from ESPN’s Wright Thompson, one of the many figures who appears in this documentary to recount the strain and struggle Tiger would eventually go through, especially after Earl’s death. His marriage collapsed, his injuries mounted, and he found himself chasing other dreams, including an obsessive fascination with military training that only contributed to his physical decline. He would be written off, an all-time great but someone whose prime had passed him by, before staging a stunning recovery to win the 2019 Masters after an 11-year major championship drought.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Tiger is a comprehensive portrait, worth watching even if you think you know everything there is to know about the man. It weaves a compelling saga of rise, fall, and return, and it paces nicely—long enough to give ample detail, but without overstaying its welcome. In an interview, high-school girlfriend Dina Parr describes her realization at the time of what was ahead for the future superstar. “I could tell he didn’t know what was coming.” For us, the viewer, knowing only makes it all the more fascinating to watch.
Scott Hines is an architect, blogger and internet user who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife, two young children, and a small, loud dog.
Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Tiger’ on HBO Max, a Two-Part Documentary About The World’s Greatest Golfer The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Decider.