Tiger Woods: The Rise, Fall, and Comeback of an Icon

We chart the life of the world’s most famous golfer
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Toward the end of Tiger, journalist and author Armen Keteyian remembers how young golfers would wish they’d had the chance to go up against prime-era Tiger Woods, before his comeback win at the 2019 Masters. “The f*ck you do,” says Keteyian to anyone audacious enough to imagine they could take him on.

Photo by SKY UK.

Woods’ competitors, like us spectators, perhaps, had forgotten just how devastating the man could be with club in hand. For all those who need reminding comes Tiger, the two-part documentary currently streaming on NOW that charts the rise, fall and comeback of golf’s first, and arguably only, superstar.

Tiger shares the story of a life that contains such a perfect cinematic arc, that were it not true it would be thrown out by screenwriters for being too implausible.

The story begins with Woods’ rise and the relationship with his father, Earl. To some, Earl was considered pushy, but to Woods, Earl was more than a father: he was a brother, a friend, a manager, a confidant and a father all rolled into one.

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Photo by Tiger.

It was Earl who first spotted his son’s aptitude for the game, noticing how as an infant Woods was transfixed by Earl practising his swing in the family garage. By the time he was two years old Earl had taught Woods how to swing a golf club better than most adults. From there, the former Green Beret and Vietnam War vet Earl went about crafting the young phenomenon’s mental toughness, preparing him to block out the world on the green and dominate in a sport that was never going to welcome him with open arms.

If anyone needs reminding of the necessity for that, consider that Augusta – home of golf’s Masters tournament – is built on a former slave plantation. Woods also speaks openly about getting kicked off golf courses as a kid because of the colour of his skin, and even as he was winning his first major championship at the 1997 Masters, there were racial threats and epithets being spoken by the watching gallery.

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Photo by Getty Images.

Earl built the perfect player in his son, but along the way Woods picked up some of his father’s less desirable character traits, too. Tiger suggests the behaviour that precipitated his fall – the philandering and affairs – was learned from Earl, who was also well known for his womanising. But although Woods’ extra-marital activities certainly resulted in a fall from grace, the fall was more of a stumble on the course. His affairs became public in 2009, but by 2012 he was back to winning tournaments, and by 2013 he’d reacquired his world number one ranking – a position that, to date, he has held for a record 683 weeks. As proof of his king status, Nike ran an advert with the tagline, “Winning takes care of everything”.

In fact, Tiger’s real downfall had more to do with the back and knee injuries that were incrementally playing a bigger and bigger role in his career. Woods became addicted to prescription pain medication, which he was taking to combat debilitating injuries that at times left him bedridden and unable to walk from A to B. It was while taking these drugs that he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2017. As he stood in a police cell in Jupiter, Florida, still sporting a Nike shirt but looking a shadow of his former self, fans wondered how he’d come back from it.

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Photo by Tiger.

Yet, to paraphrase Keteyian, the f*ck he wouldn’t. Woods’ victory at the 2019 Masters proves that you can never count him out.

After the release of Tiger, another act was added to Woods’ story when he was involved a serious car accident in February 2021, that doctors said left him with “significant orthopaedic injuries” to his lower right leg and ankle. Thankfully, Woods is now in hospital recuperating, yet his chances of winning a 16th major have all but disappeared.

Still, if Tiger teaches us anything, it’s that Woods writes his own narrative - and who knows where his story will go next?

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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