Athlete Eldrick Tont Woods, better known as Tiger Woods, was born on December 30, 1975, in Cypress, California, the only child of an African-American Army officer father and a Thai mother. When Woods was a child, his father began calling him “Tiger” in honor of a fellow soldier and friend who had the same moniker. Around this same time, Woods learned to play golf. His father, Earl, served as his teacher and mentor. Around the age of 8, Woods had become extremely proficient at the game, even showing off his skills on television shows such as Good Morning America.
Woods studied at Stanford University, and won a number of amateur U.S. golf titles before turning professional in 1996. He shot to fame after winning the U.S. Masters at Augusta in 1997—with a record score of 270—at the age of 21. Woods was the youngest man to earn the title, and the first African-American to accomplish this feat.
In his first appearance at the British Open later that year, Woods tied the course record of 64. The next few years brought even more successes, including four U.S. PGA titles, three U.S. Open wins, three Open Championship wins, and three U.S. Masters wins.
In 2003, among Woods’s five wins were the Buick Invitational and the Western Open. The next year, Woods won only one official PGA Tour championship. While he may have had some challenges on the course, his personal life was running smoothly. Woods married his longtime girlfriend Elin Nordegren, a Swedish model, in October of 2004.
Returning to dominate the sport, he won six championships in 2005 and was voted the PGA Tour Player of Year for the seventh time in nine years.
Woods experienced a great personal loss in 2006. His father died in May after battling prostate cancer. Woods remarked on his website at the time, “My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, and I will miss him deeply.” Despite his grief, Woods returned to golf and won several events, including the PGA Championship and the British Open.
The next season was marked by many wins personally and professionally. His wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sam Alexis Woods, on June 18, 2007. After taking some time off to welcome his daughter, he won the World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship in August 2007.
The next month, Woods’s winning ways continued, as he garnered the top spot at the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship. He was named Player of the Year by the other participants in the PGA Tour and won his eighth Arnold Palmer Award for being the lead money earner.
Woods won the U.S. Open on June 16, 2008, in a 19-hole playoff, overcoming sporadic pain in his left knee from arthroscopic surgery performed on April 15. Woods shot a par 4 on the first and only hole of sudden death while American Rocco Mediate, 45, settled for a bogey.
The sudden death duel at Torrey Pines in San Diego followed an 18-hole playoff, which saw the two finish at par. In that playoff, Woods led Mediate by three shots after the first 10 holes. Mediate then birdied three of the next five holes and took the lead. But on the final hole, Woods birdied while Mediate shot par, forcing the sudden death playoff. “I think this is probably the best ever,” Woods said. “All things considered, I don’t know how I ended up in this position, to be honest with you.” The victory gave Woods his third U.S. Open championship and 14th major title, just four behind the all-time record held by Jack Nicklaus.
Inury and Comeback
Two days later, Woods announced he would miss the rest of the season because his left knee required more reconstructive surgery. He also revealed he had suffered a double stress fracture in his left tibia two weeks before the U.S. Open tournament, ignoring doctors’ advice to take six weeks off to let it heal.
Woods and his wife announced September 2, 2008, that they were expecting their second child in late winter. “Elin is feeling great and we are both thrilled,” Woods said on his website. “While my injury has been disappointing and frustrating, it has allowed me to spend a lot of time watching Sam grow. I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding it is being a dad and spending time with her and Elin.” The couple welcomed baby boy Charlie Axel Woods on February 8, 2009.
On February 25, 2009, Woods returned to the green in the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Arizona. Woods played against South African golfer Tim Clark, losing 4 to 2 in his first tournament since his injury. In June of 2009, Woods competed again in the U.S. Open. After putting a four-over-par in the first round, Woods quickly fell out of contention for the win.
Although Woods’s comeback had not been as auspicious as he’d hoped, he remained No. 1 in the world golf rankings, and continued to be the leader in Top 10 finishes overall. But after losing the PGA title to Yang Yong-eun, Woods finished the year without a single major win—the first time he had done so since 2004.
Marriage Under the Spotlight
While his life on the green seemed lackluster, his personal life was in an even more serious tailspin. In late November, reports surfaced about a tryst between Woods and nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel. Both parties denied a relationship, despite photographic evidence that seemed to indicate otherwise.
On November 27, as the story gained traction, media outlets announced that Woods had collided into a fire hydrant outside his home at 2:30 in the morning. Reports said that Woods’s wife had broken the back window of the golfer’s SUV with a golf club in order to get him out of the locked car. The golfer’s injuries were not serious, and he was quickly released.
The accident aroused suspicions with fans and the media, who instantly pushed for a statement from Woods. But the golfer remained silent on the matter, and mysteriously dropped out of his charity golf tournament, the Chevron World Challenge. He then announced that he would not be attending any other tournaments in 2009.
As the silence grew, so did reports of other Woods mistresses. On December 2, 2009, Woods offered an apology to his fans and family, expressing regret for unnamed “transgressions.” But as the mistress count rose to more than a dozen women, with phone evidence to back many claims, Woods was unable to suppress media inquiries into his life. Woods was said to have offered his wife a renegotiation of their prenuptial agreement in order to compel her to stick by him, but reports soon surfaced that Nordgren had purchased a home in Sweden with her sister. Photographers then spotted the former model without her wedding ring.
On December 11, 2009, Woods apologized again to fans—this time, admitting to infidelity. He then announced that he would be taking a hiatus from golf in order to tend to his family. Several days later, he lost his endorsement deal with the management company Accenture, and was suspended from his Gillette endorsement. Other companies, including Nike, Tag Heuer and EA Sports, continued to stand by Woods.
Woods made a return to golf in April of 2010, but the golfer was not quite at the top of his game. His first competition at the 2010 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, resulted in a fourth place finish. On May 9, after missing the cut for the Quail Hollow Championship, Woods withdrew from the Players Championship during the fourth round due to a neck injury. Woods made his return to golf four weeks later at the Memorial Tournament, but delivered his worst performance in the tournament since 2002. At the 2010 U.S. Open, Woods finished in a tie for fourth place.
Woods’s personal life also seemed to be taking a turn for the worse, as news of a possible divorce settlement hit media outlets. The rumored $750 million settlement allegedly included properties in Sweden, and the family home in California for Nordegren, in exchange for his wife’s permanent silence on Woods’s philandering. Reports also said Nordegren retained full physical custody of their 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, and Woods agreed not to introduce his children to a new woman unless he married her.
After years of turmoil, Woods finally got his golf game clicking again in 2012. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March for his first PGA Tour victory since 2009. That summer, he topped the field at the AT&T National to surpass Nicklaus with career victory No. 74, leaving him eight behind the record of 82 held by Sam Snead.
In March 2013, the 37-year-old Woods confirmed to media outlets that he was dating 28-year-old Lindsey Vonn, a professional alpine ski racer from Minnesota and four-time World Cup winner. Vonn was previously married to Thomas Vonn, a former ski racer; the couple separated in 2011, after four years of marriage, and officially divorced in January 2012.
The 2013 season was a triumphant one for Woods. He won five tournaments, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Farmers Insurance Open and the Players Championship, and was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year for the 11th time.
However, just as Woods appeared primed to resume his march toward Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships, injuries flared up to derail his performance. The golfer underwent back surgery in March 2014, and struggled after returning to competitive play.
The following year, he appeared in two early tournaments before taking a break to let a sore back heal and work on his game. Woods returned in time to tee off at the Masters in April, finishing a solid 5-under par to claim a tie for 17th place. A few weeks later, he announced the end of his relationship with Vonn, noting that their “hectic” schedules kept them from spending time together.
The golfing legend continued to experience ups and downs in his professional and personal life. He suffered from back injuries in the ensuing years and underwent his fourth back surgery in April 2017. A month later, police found Woods sleeping in his car, which was running and had its brake lights and blinkers on, at the side of the road near his Florida home. He was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, however, a breath alcohol test showed no signs of alcohol in his system. In a statement, Woods said that he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.” He also thanked the police for their professionalism and issued an apology.
“I would like to apologize with all my heart to my family, friends and the fans,” he said in the statement. “I expect more from myself too.”