It’s probably inevitable that any sporting documentary landing in the foreseeable future will invite instant comparisons with The Last Dance, Netflix’s monumental hit series about the career of basketball legend Michael Jordan. And while that might be an incredibly high bar to clear, Tiger Woods: Back – a new documentary from Sky – takes a pretty decent stab at it, offering an entertaining and absorbing look back at the golf icon’s career through the use of extensive archive footage and some candid interviews with those close to him.
There are clear similarities between this project and the aforementioned Netflix series: both focus on culturally significant sportsmen whose influence and reputation transcended the sports that they played and both centre on a key triumph late in their respective subject’s careers, while offering a broader look back at highlights and lowlights – though director Nick German has pointed out that these similarities are entirely coincidental.
But there are also some key differences. For a start this is a feature length documentary rather than a series, and so naturally the subject isn’t covered in quite as much depth, while it centres on an event – the 2019 Masters – which is still very fresh in the memory, as opposed to one from over 20 years ago as was the case in The Last Dance. It’s probably also fair to say that this lacks the sheer raw energy of The Last Dance – perhaps at least in part due to the fact that basketball is inarguably a more dynamic and fast-paced sport than golf.
The most significant difference, though, is that this documentary doesn’t have access to Tiger Woods himself. Although the subject naturally appears throughout the programme, this is through archive footage and snippets from press conference rather than exclusive interviews – the result being that it feels more like we are admiring Woods from afar as opposed to the extremely intimate portrayal of Jordan’s career that The Last Dance provided.
But while this means that Tiger Woods: Back can’t quite reach the heights of the basketball phenomenon, that shouldn’t be held too firmly against it – exclusive interviews with the likes of former coach Butch Harmon and golfing hero Sir Nick Faldo allow for several interesting insights to be gleaned, while it’s also fascinating to look back at Woods talk about his ambitions at the start of his career through some recently unearthed footage.
Of the exclusive interviews that are included in the programme, it’s that with Butch Harmon which is the most insightful. Harmon, who now works as a pundit for Sky Sports, was Woods’ coach from 1993 to 2002, and so it’s perhaps unsurprising that he was, according to German, “the first name on the sheet when we looked at who we wanted to talk to.” Harmon talks with great passion and unparalleled knowledge about Woods’ career and also tells some interesting stories about interactions he had with Woods’ father. He’s the sort of figure you’d gladly hear wax lyrical for hours – and so his presence in the documentary is a big bonus.
Unsurprisingly, it’s likely sport fans – and golf fans in particular – that will find the most to enjoy here. For younger fans whose main association with Woods may be the front page headlines that so dominated his career from 2008 onwards, it will be incredibly rewarding to go back and see just how dominant he once was, while older fans will no doubt find joy in reminiscing at his glory days and should also take interest in discussions about Woods relationship with his late father Earl and his attitude towards injuries, both topics which are delved into extensively.
But there’s also a certain universality to the story which should help the programme win an audience beyond just golfers. This is, essentially, a redemption story, the tale of a sporting legend who hit the very top, sunk to rock bottom and against all odds rose again – and you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to find at least a glimmer of inspiration in that. And so while it’s unlikely this will find quite as wide an audience as The Last Dance – owing partly to the fact that Sky Documentaries is not exactly as ubiquitous as Netflix – it is nevertheless a satisfying and enjoyable two hours, which may well leave you with a new perspective on a sporting icon.