Tiger Woods: Back – unseen footage documents the rise, fall and comeback of golfing star

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.

Produced with Sky Sports, 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.”

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

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.”

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.

Thanks to the clever cutting of editor Robbie Easterbrook, 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.

“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.

(c) Sky News 2020: Tiger Woods: Back – unseen footage documents the rise, fall and comeback of golfing star

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