Top Takeaways from Tiger Woods' HBO Documentary 'Tiger' Part 1

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2021

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the PNC Championship golf tournament, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Part one of HBO's documentary Tiger aired on Sunday night, with new and unique insights into the life and career of Tiger Woods offered by people who know him well. 

When the two-part series was first announced last summer, directors Matthew Heineman and Matthew Hamachek said they wanted to "dive deeper and create an unflinching and intimate portrait of a man, who like all of us, is imperfect and inherently human."

Even though the series is about Woods, the legendary golfer didn't sit down with the directors for a talking head interview. Instead, it's a portrait of the man from the outside. 

Of course, that's not to say it was lacking in important content. Part one kicked off with never-before-seen footage of Earl Woods speaking about his son at a banquet in 1996: 

"Please forgive me, but sometimes I get very emotional when I talk about my son. My heart fills with so much joy when I realize that this young man is going to help so many people.

"He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before. The world will be be a better place to live in by virtue of his existence and his presence. This is my treasure. Please accept it and use it wisely."

Speaking to  of Insider.com, Hamachek said the process of obtaining that footage from the Haskins Banquet took months:

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"A lot of people had asked for [it] before, so they wanted to make sure to give it to someone who was going to do right by Tiger's story. It took a lot of time to talk to them and eventually in March of this year the organization finally agreed to release the footage to us. It was a huge day. 

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"It was the most important piece of archive [footage] in the entire film just because of how much it set up the relationship between Tiger and his father. A lot of what makes it complicated and loving at the same time are the expectations that Earl put onto Tiger."

The bulk of the first part was centered around Woods' career on the golf course. The first piece of footage after Earl's speech is the famous video of Tiger as a two-year-old on The Mike Douglas Show. 

Of course, the crowning achievement of Woods' early years was his first-ever major tournament win at the Masters in 1997. He lapped the field with a then-record score of 18 under par, 12 strokes better than runner-up Tom Kite. 

As noted by USA Today's Mike Freeman, the documentary used Woods' victory to show how it wound up getting used as a political statement by people not associated with golf:

"The documentary quotes conservative commentator Brit Hume, speaking about how America embraced Woods after his Masters win: 'The reaction to him says something about this country, often accused still of a pervasive racism. America was thrilled by, and for, Tiger Woods, glad that such a young man could reach such heights. Glader still, if anything, that a Black man could.'"

In the documentary, Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith offered this quote: "We like to believe we're this place without racism, but that's a great American myth."

Woods has largely shied away from discussing issues involving race publicly throughout his career, though he did offer praise for the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. 

One time Woods did openly discuss the subject was in the book he co-wrote with Lorne Rubenstein, The 1997 Masters: My Story. 

Ewan Murray of the Irish Times published a brief excerpt from the book upon its release in March 2017: 

“I knew none of this meant, necessarily, things would change dramatically for minorities in golf. I hoped my win would encourage them to play, or to chase their dreams whatever they were.

“But it would have been naive of me to think my win would mean the end of ‘the look’ when a person from any minority walked into some golf clubs, especially the game’s private clubs. I only hoped my win, and how I won, might put a dent in the way people perceived black people.

“I hoped my win would open some doors for minorities. My biggest hope, though, was we could one day see one another as people and people alone. I wanted us to be colour blind. Twenty years later, that has yet to happen.”

There's nothing in the first half of the documentary as heavy as the subject of race. This portion of the documentary winds down with Woods becoming arguably the most famous athlete in the world by the mid-2000s. 

Of course, that's also around the time when things in his life would start to take a turn. Earl died of a heart attack at the age of 74 in May 2006. Tiger missed the cut at the U.S. Open the following month. It was the first time he missed the cut at a major tournament as a professional. 

Woods did rebound in 2006 with wins at the British Open and PGA Championship. He added two more major titles over the next two years, including the 2008 U.S. Open on a torn ACL and fractured leg. 

In November 2009, Woods' private life became public when news of his extramarital affairs was reported. The first half of the documentary ends with Woods and his then-wife Elin Nordegren embracing after his win at the 2006 U.S. Open, followed by Rachel Uchitel sitting down for a talking head interview for the documentary. 

Uchitel was identified as Woods' mistress when his affairs became public knowledge. 

"We met with her for lunch, and Rachel felt strongly that nobody had ever told her side of the story; that the media had taken her and turned her into a caricature," Hamacheck told  about getting Uchitel to sit down for the documentary.

The second half will focus on the fall and subsequent rise of Woods' career, culminating in his memorable and historic win at the Masters in 2019.