"Where Tiger differs from many sports docs, including last year’s ESPN series about (Michael) Jordan, is in its candid and sometimes wrenching portrayal of its subject’s emotional life," says Hannah Giorgis. "Directed by Matthew Heineman and Matthew Hamachek, the two-part production draws primarily from the 2018 biography of the same name by Armen Keteyian and Jeff Benedict. (The second part airs this weekend.) Woods participated in neither the book nor the film, and his distance from both projects lends them an unexpected intimacy. Sports documentaries, especially those featuring access to their athlete protagonists, tend to emphasize their skill and talent to the exclusion of their interiority. For men in particular, that can mean focusing almost entirely on mental and physical toughness. The documentaries become exercises not just in self-promotion but also in masculine self-mythology. Weakness in all its forms is just another hurdle to quickly overcome. The only acceptable conclusion is excellence. But unlike The Last Dance, which steers away from discussions of unflattering family dynamics, Tiger goes where it wants. While the film spends ample time revisiting its subject’s career highlights, it does its most revelatory work by zeroing in on the immense psychological toll it took for Eldrick Woods the prodigy to become Tiger, the phenom."
Tiger explores the "Great American myth" of America being a non-racist country: "There were many striking aspects of part one of the new HBO documentary Tiger, which premiered on Sunday night (part two debuts Jan. 17)," says Mike Freeman. "One of the most powerful was the documentary's reminder that at the time some believed Woods' win signaled racism in America was in its dying stages. Woods, following that Masters, was used as a bludgeon to the notion that the country was hostile to people of color. Conservative politicians and media bathed in this. Some of the reason why was tactical. At the time, prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich pushed back against some national policies and belief systems like affirmative action, feeling that racism had waned to such low levels, these type of policies were no longer needed. If racism didn't exist, or was minimal, the argument went, why would you need affirmative action? If a Black golfer could dominate a white sport, wasn't this proof that race-based policies were no longer needed? Of course, this idea is comical, both then and now."
Tiger shows what a docuseries looks like when the subject isn't in control: "The goals of Tiger are very different from those of The Last Dance, but the latter, very enjoyable documentary about Michael Jordan is an instructive comparison in at least one way: In the absence of supreme control, retelling a story through every granular detail is a good way to sap some of its vitality," says Daniel D'Addario. "(It’s also instructive in terms of how different a documentary looks when a subject has control: Jordan, the hero of The Last Dance, is here the satyr-like figure who introduces Woods to the pleasures of Las Vegas.)"
Tiger takes full advantage of the docuseries format: "Like other attempts to deconstruct athletes who take on mythological status in the United States—think ESPN’s The Last Dance and the Oscar-winning O.J.: Made in America—the documentary leverages the benefits in scope and running time afforded by the streaming era to explore the intersection of Woods’s intensely private and uncommonly public lives," says Lex Pryor. "The film is at times an immensely intimate portrait of a figure enveloped by the pull and tug of celebrity hero worship, and a culture that projects what it wants from its heroes onto them. In Tiger, we see Woods’s legend came to mean all things to all people—and glimpse how that dynamic affected the man himself."
Tiger directors had to talk reluctant sources to appear in the docuseries: “They had seen what Tiger had gone through all his life, and they didn’t want to be part of something unless they understood what it was going to be about,” says Matthew Hamachek. “We had to convince people that we were not going to make the tabloid version of his story and we were also not going to do the glowing piece about his golfing prowess....We were clear in letting them know that this was going to be complex. When we were able to spend the time telling people what we were going to do, we convinced them. But there were others who did not want to participate.”