HBO recently aired Tiger, the new two-part documentary about golfer Tiger Woods. The two parts, running a total of just over three hours, focus on Tiger’s upbringing, early success, sex scandal, decline, and return. The documentary includes interviews with pro golfer Nick Faldo, Tiger’s former caddie Steve Williams, as well as early witnesses to his golf prowess, a college girlfriend, a mistress, and a handful of sports writers, journalists, and family friends. After ensuring my wife that she didn’t have to watch it with me, I consumed the documentary over the course of two days. This will be Cosas Totum’s second review of a television show, and our previous review of The Queen’s Gambit can be found here.
The premise is simple enough: this two-episode documentary covers Tiger’s life so far. The first episode covers a timeline from Tiger’s childhood appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, where at age 2 he putted in front of Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart until right before his sex scandal broke. The second episode focuses on the sex scandal, injuries, downfall, and redemption.
Right out of the gate there is a huge flaw with this documentary: All footage of Tiger is archival; he apparently did not wish to provide hands-on input of the show. In fact, the only professional golfer who did sit for interviews with the HBO crew was Nick Faldo. The entire show feels like the HBO producers are using junior varsity commentary for a person who is objectively a varsity-level athlete and celebrity. There is a certain cheapness to the quality of guest (my sincerest apologies to Nick Faldo for lumping him in there, too) that, to me, distracts from the rest of the program. That said, once you get past it, the show is well done.
Tiger is a Greek tragedy. Eldrick “Tiger” Woods grew up with a father who, it cannot be denied, loved his son, but who exerted levels of control that could reasonably be considered psychologically abusive at times. Earl Woods was a former special forces military man who ran Tiger’s training regimen with the authority and precision of a commando. The first episode has an underlying focus on Tiger and Earl’s relationship and how pervasive it was in literally every facet of Tiger’s life.
Then, continuing the Greek tragedy similarities, Tiger marries a beautiful woman only to become his own worst enemy by philandering. After the marriage but before getting caught, Earl Woods died and there is an insinuation that not having his father around led to Tiger acting more erratically than he may have otherwise. Tiger’s self-destructive inability to be monogamous led to some close calls with bottom-feeding “journalists” from the National Enquirer trailing him and catching him with a woman to whom he was not married. After a trade that seems fairly close to the definition of “blackmail,” the Enquirer did not run the story.
Unfortunately for everyone, however, Tiger did not change his ways and was eventually caught. In November 2009, Tiger wrecked his SUV and his numerous infidelities became public knowledge. He took a break from golf, got divorced, came back to golf, suffered injuries, and was a shadow of his former self for years until winning the 2019 Masters.
And with success Tiger’s Greek tragedy turns into something of a Divine Comedy-esque story of redemption. Now Tiger is all smiles and looks like he’s having fun. No doubt his demons are still there, but at least as of this writing, they are out of sight.
Tiger covers a lot of ground in only three hours of running time. The archival footage of Tiger being the best golfer on the face of the planet is fantastic for golf nerds like myself. And footage of others who played with Tiger—Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, and, of course, Nick Faldo—is also fun. But the fact that there is no commentary from Tiger, his ex-wife Elin, his mother Kultida, or anyone who doesn’t have some reason to be upset with Tiger, is disappointing. Ex-caddie Steve Williams clearly has some sort of grudge, as does former girlfriend Rachel Uchitel, both of whom provide a large share of the commentary. Additionally, commentary from the former editor of the National Enquirer, who exudes an almost lascivious joy at the thought of catching celebrities behaving badly, cheapens the content.
Then there’s the timing. The ESPN/Netflix Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance was a huge success. I literally have not talked to a single person who didn’t like it. The footage, the input from MJ, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, and all of those other guys associated with basketball during Michael Jordan’s career provided insight and perspective most folks probably assumed they would never have access to regarding Michael Jordan. And because that was the most recent blockbuster sports documentary, Tiger will inevitably be compared to it. And that comparison is not favorable to Tiger. Between the lack of input from more contemporaries, the fact that almost everyone who did participate seemed to have a reason to hate Tiger Woods, and the extreme condensation of 40+ years of life in the public eye into a three-hour National Enquirer piece, Tiger suffered.
But still, the archival footage was good, and hearing a mistress’s side of the sex scandal appealed to the same part of my brain that occasionally enjoys trash like Jersey Shore, so there were some redeeming qualities. Overall I’m giving Tiger a score of 6.5 points out of a possible 10. Worth the watch, but only in the way a rom-com is: a way to kill some time with something you haven’t seen before, but probably not something that will leave a lasting impression.