Tiger premieres Sunday on HBO and HBO Max, and concludes on Jan. 17

By Lindsay Kimble and Jen Juneau
January 08, 2021 02:30 PM
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For Tiger co-director Matthew Heineman, the inspiration to make a documentary about arguably the most recognizable golfer in the world simply boiled down to the question, "Who really is Tiger Woods?"

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE ahead of the two-part series' Sunday premiere, Heineman and his co-director Matthew Hamachek discuss what drew them to the project, with Heineman citing the 45-year-old athlete's "larger than life" legacy.

"The expectations that his father, his sponsors, his fans and the world at large thrust upon him were impossible to live up to, and what we learned is that the projected persona didn't match the reality of who Tiger was or whom he has ever aspired to be," Heineman says. "So as a filmmaker, I gravitated toward the opportunity to find the deeper truths in his story."

For Hamachek, an incident more than 10 years ago sparked his interest into the man "we know next to nothing about" despite his fame.

"When he crashed his car into the fire hydrant on Thanksgiving night in 2009, I was instantly more curious about how and why he got to that point than I was about the particulars of the ensuing scandal," he tells PEOPLE. (Woods got into a car accident near his Florida home shortly before it was revealed in 2009 that he'd allegedly had extramarital affairs with more than a dozen women.)

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Tiger Woods
| Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty

Hamachek says they wanted to talk to people closest to the athlete, who "were around Tiger at pivotal points in his life," to give the documentary clout and depth.

"This included his high-school girlfriend and first true love, Dina Gravell; his caddie of 11 years, Steve Williams; and the woman at the center of the scandal in 2009, Rachel Uchitel," he says, adding that it was "fascinating" to see how "extremely protective of Tiger" they are — even those who "had acrimonious splits from" the golfer.

"Once they saw that we were committed to making a nuanced portrait of Tiger's life, they were on board," Hamachek tells PEOPLE.

Touching on the heavy inclusion of Woods' late father, Earl Woods, Heineman says their relationship "was undeniably an important one," as "Earl was the one who introduced Tiger to golf and pushed him to excel in the game and they were, in Tiger's own words, best friends."

"But as you'll see, Earl had outsized expectations," Heineman continues. "The documentary opens with a speech where Earl speaks about his dream for Tiger to be a figure who will unite all of humanity. That's a heavy burden to carry, and something that cast a large shadow throughout Tiger's life."

Tiger Woods
| Credit: HBO Max

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Based on The New York Times bestselling book Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, Tiger will focus on Woods' "rise, fall and epic comeback." The special "is driven by never-before-seen footage and revealing interviews with those who know the golfer best," according to a press release.

According to the release, the documentary is produced by HBO Sports and Jigsaw Productions in association with Our Time Projects. Alex Gibney executive produced alongside Sam Pollard, Stacey Offman, Richard Perello, Keteyian and Benedict.

"Diehard Tiger fans will have plenty to chew on, including footage and interviews that have never been seen before. But the strongest response has been from people who can't stand golf," Hamachek says. "For over 30 years, the media and the general public built him up to be perfect. When he revealed himself to be a human being in 2009, those same people took great joy in tearing him down. As one of our interview subjects put it, 'The problem with conquering the world is that the world is going to want its revenge.' "

Tiger premieres Sunday and concludes with Part II on Jan. 17. Both 90-minute episodes, airing at 9 p.m. ET, will be available to watch on HBO and HBO Max.