‘A roller-coaster off the rails’: The rise, fall and comeback of Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods was the rock star of the golfing world – an athlete who transcended his sport, but later became a news story for all the wrong reasons.

Now, a Sky Original documentary is setting out to document the 44-year-old golfer’s rise to fame, fall from grace and miraculous comeback.

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 28, 1991: Tiger Woods, age 15 years, six months, and 28 days, and father Earl Woods, pose for a photo while celebrating Tiger's victory at the 1991 USGA Junior Amateur Championships on July 28, 1991 at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
Image:Tiger was very close to his father Earl

The feature-length film contains previously unseen footage from the sporting star’s early career, including a candid interview with his father, Earl, at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996.

It’s Tiger’s first professional event, and the interviewer David Livingstone asks his father what he thinks the future holds for his son.

Earl Woods replies: “You ever ridden a roller-coaster and it goes off the rails? And it goes out and it just goes on and on and on and on. There’s no limit to his future, there’s no limiting factor, because he has a talent, he has the desire and he’s just going to get better and better and better.”

27 Aug 1995: Tiger Woods shares a moment with his father, Earl, as they embrace on the final hole after Tiger''s victory in the1995 U.S. Amatuer Championships held at the Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island. Mandatory Credit: J.D. Cuban
Image:Tiger embraces his dad after his 1995 victory in the US Amateur Championships

His answer turned out to be more prescient than he could ever have believed.

Tiger blazed a trail for minorities within golf and was the first African American and first Asian American to win the Masters, breaking the tournament record and aged just 21.

    In his career – spanning three decades – he claimed all four major golf tournaments at the same time, won the Masters three consecutive times (five times in total) and has won 15 major tournaments overall.

    Calling his effect on the sport “the Tiger factor”, the film’s director Nick German told Sky News: “Woods didn’t move the needle, he was the needle”.

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 24: Tiger Woods, age 14, hits a drive at the PGA Junior Championships, August 24, 1990 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
    Image:Tiger aged 14, hitting a drive at the PGA Junior Championships

    German goes on: “Many players, if not for Tiger wouldn’t be in the place that they are.

    “They’ve either been inspired by him to become players or they’re playing for prize funds in tournaments that are so large purely because of the Tiger factor throughout the 1990s and 2000s.”

    Not just a film for golf lovers, the documentary tells the story of Woods as a son, father and athlete who achieves the comeback almost no one believed he could.

    SEAL BEACH, CA - FEB: Golfer Tiger Woods poses for a photo at the Navy Golf Course in February,1992 in Seal Beach, California. (Photo by Andy Hayt/Getty Images) *** LOCAL CAPTION *** Tiger Woods
    Image:A posed photo at the Navy Golf Course in 1992 on Seal Beach, California

    It’s a story told through Tiger’s own words, but without his direct participation.

    The director explained: “We felt very strongly that while his career is still in progress, that it wasn’t the right time to do a complete retrospective of it. We felt we could take a more objective approach to the story by not having Tiger involved.”

    Woods was immensely close to his father, who died in 2006 after suffering a heart attack.

    The ex-Navy SEAL and Vietnam veteran instilled his son with a toughness and self-belief that was almost bulletproof.

    AND 05: ST ANDREW'S: 17.07.95: 19-year-old Tiger Woods, America's leading amateur, during the first day of practice in the Open Golf Championship at St Andrew's today (Monday). Photo by David Giles/PA. gm.
    Image:By 19 Tiger was America’s leading amateur

    It also gave the golfer a resilient attitude towards injury – the phrase “suck it up” is one of Tiger’s most uttered mantras.

    We learn in the documentary that it was not unusual for Tiger to punish himself with an eight or nine mile run after a game in which he felt he’d played badly.

    Indeed, his dedication to military fitness and love of “punishing workouts” is likely to have played a big part in his knee and back problems during his later career according to a neurological spinal surgeon who contributes to the documentary.

    25 Jan 1998: Tiger Woods with his parents Kultida and Earl Woods at the Johnnie Walker Classic at Blue Canyon Golf Club, Thailand. Mandatory Credit: David Cannon/ALLSPORT
    Image:Tiger with his parents Kultida and Earl in 1998. Pic: David Cannon/ALLSPORT

    In another previously unseen piece of footage in the documentary, filmed at Tiger’s first professional tournament, he is asked about an injury he sustained on the 13th hole.

    Tiger replied: “As my dad always says, I need to suck it up and get on with it.”

    German says his answer is telling: “His attitude to his injuries foreshadows everything that happens after that.”

    BETHESDA, MD - JULY 05: Tiger Woods greets his children Sam Woods and Charlie Woods after the final round of the 2009 AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods, held at Congressional Country Club onSunday, July 5, 2009 in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Elin Woods;Sam Woods;Tiger Woods;Charlie Woods
    Image:Tiger with his children Sam and Charlie in 2009

    However, for many who don’t follow sport, it was Tiger’s very public private life that made him a household name rather than his sporting prowess.

    In 2009 Woods publicly apologised for numerous infidelities to his then-wife Elin, announcing an indefinite break from professional golf.

    They divorced the following year.

    US golfer Tiger Woods reacts to missing a putt on the 8th green during his first round 69, on the opening day of the 2014 British Open Golf Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Course in Hoylake, north west England on July 17, 2014. Woods, 18 months shy of his 40th birthday, says that for the first time in years he is pain free and ready to go as he once again hones in on his lifelong obsession of matching and finally surpassing the all-time major record of 18 wins held by Jack Nicklaus since 19
    Image:He suffered four major injuries during his career

    German acknowledges the scandal needed to be treated sensitively but was central to the sportsman’s story.

    “For the first time in Tiger’s life, he was not just a back-page story, he was on the front pages too.

    “Problems in his private life also affected his game and after that there seemed to be a kind of loss of aura around him.

    GAINESVILLE, United States: Tiger Woods of the USA, grimaces in pain after hitting a shot, during his Singles match against International Retief Goosen of South Africa at the 2005 Presidents Cup 25 September, 2005 at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia. Goosen went on to defeat Woods 2 and 1. AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
    Image:Tiger grimaces in pain after hitting a shot at the 2005 Presidents Cup

    “I can’t speak for the players that competed with him at the time, but it was definitely a sense that he has lost something and was suddenly human and beatable. His struggles with what was going on made him more fragile as a player. It’s a hugely significant part of the story.”

    In addition to his personal problems, Tiger also had numerous major injuries to overcome – including damage to his knee, back, shoulder and neck.

    “He’d had four serious injuries and he had a last chance opportunity at surgery [in 2017], which was fusing two discs together.”

    JUPITER, FL - MAY 29: (EDITORS NOTE: Best quality available) In this handout photo provided by The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, golfer Tiger Woods is seen in a police booking photo after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) May 29, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida. Woods has been released on his own recognizance. (Photo by The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)
    Image:Tiger was arrested in 2017 in Palm Beach for driving under the influence

    However, it was Tiger’s 2017 arrest for driving under the influence – which again led to front page coverage – that led him to seek treatment for painkiller addiction, and ultimately turn his life back around.

    It was his steadfast will to win, that despite his numerous bodily injuries was still very much intact, that led to his comeback evolution.

    As Tiger says in the film: “I look back at mistakes I have made and think, ‘How could I do better?’, both in life and on the course.”

    27 Aug 1995: Earl and Tiger Woods hug each other at the US Amateur Championships at the Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island. Mandatory Credit: J.D. Cuban /Allsport
    Image:A young Tiger fools around with his dad on a course. Pic: J.D. Cuban /Allsport

    German explains: “He competed in the Open Championship and finished second and then the PGA Championship and finished second. It all helped build belief over his comeback from injury and those 18 months to two years before the Masters.”

    Tiger’s domination of the game for so many years visually plays out in a scene towards the end of the film, where he is shown walking up a hill at a selection of tournaments in which he triumphed.

    Tiger Woods stands with his children Sam(L) and Charlie after the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland on June 26, 2016. / AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
    Image:Now Tiger has his own kids to coach in the game. Pic: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLD

    Thanks to the clever cutting of editor Robbie Easter Brooke, we seem to see Woods age decades as he approaches the final hole.

    Another key moment in the film shows pivotal moments in Tiger’s career.

    German explains: “The film is bookended by a father hugging his son as his son walks off the 18th green, winning the Masters in 1997.

    AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates with his son Charlie Axel as he comes off the 18th hole in honor of his win during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
    Image:Tiger celebrates with his children after his Masters comeback win in 2019

    “And then at the very end of the film, a father [Tiger] walks off the 18th green [at the Masters in 2019] and hugs his own son. It’s a complete circle.”

    As Woods himself notes, it was the first time in his children’s lives they’d seen golf bring him joy rather than pain.

    The documentary also contains exclusive interviews with golfing legends including Butch Harmon, Sir Nick Faldo and Notah Begay III.

    Tiger Woods: Back premieres at 9pm tonight on Sky Documentaries.

    Mark Gibson

    Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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