This time each year sees the release of a handful of EA Sports franchises – Madden NFL, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, NHL and NBA Live – just as each professional season prepares to get underway. Wait a minute. The PGA Tour is just starting to wrap up. Isn’t it odd that EA releases Tiger Woods PGA Tour at the end of the summer, rather than in January when the PGA Tour gets started? I guess armchair golfers would rather hit the virtual links during the off-season, perhaps when it’s too cold to get out and play a round of the real thing, while football, hockey and basketball fans prefer just the opposite, to play as their favorites do the same. It’s just an observation. Let’s move on to the real matter at hand. Is this year’s edition of Tiger Woods PGA Tour worth the green fees?
In a nutshell, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is a more polished and better-organized version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08. As per usual, you’ll begin by creating and customizing your golf avatar. From there, you’ll be introduced to your Performance Coach, who just happens to be Tiger Woods’ real life coach, Hank Haney. After watching you hit four shots, including a putt attempt, he’ll rate your golfing skills - Power, Accuracy, Short Game and Putting - and create custom drills to help improve your rating. The end result isn’t much different than the Skills Training offered in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, but here it’s presented in a much better way. When you finish a round of golf in any game mode, Hank will offer custom drills based on strokes you hit that round that could have been better. That extra bit of personalization makes the skills training process so much more interesting and rewarding. The only drawback with the Performance Coach is that there are times when the goal of a drill presented is nearly impossible to reach, forcing you to skip it altogether.
In Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, your skills could only go up. Once you maximized all four of your skills, you were essentially unbeatable, and winning every tournament by more than 20 strokes tends to get old quickly. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 rectifies this problem with Dynamic Player Skills. Now your attributes can rise and fall. The feature rewards consistency so any time you shoot a poor round, one or more of your attributes are likely to decrease. Each skill is based on one or two criteria. For example, your power attribute is based not only on your average driving distance, but also how often your tee shots land in the fairway. Dynamic Player Skills is a great new addition though it’s not without a hitch or two. Hitting a water or lateral hazard can have a dramatic effect on your Accuracy and/or Short Game attributes post-round. There are also some Tiger Challenges after which your skills will get re-adjusted, when clearly they shouldn’t due to the nature of the challenge, be it a short- or long-distance.
All of the usual events are present, from the PGA Tour Season to the Tiger Challenge, the latter of which has received a nice makeover. Gone is the hexagonal system, replaced with a blade system that presents the challenges in a more clear and concise matter. There are all types of Game Modes, from Skins to Battle Golf, and a bunch of Mini Games including Capture the Flag and Driving Contest. Multiplayer has received a bit of an overhaul. In addition to turn-based play, there’s an all-new four-player Online Simultaneous Play that allows four players to complete a foursome round at the same time. Each player tees off at the same time and while you’re hitting your shot, you’ll see the ball trails from each of your playing partners in real-time. Ultimately it shortens the time it takes to finish a round with four players considerably. Last but not least, the EA Sports GamerNet has been integrated throughout the entire game. As long as you’re connected to the Internet playing in any game mode, you’ll see Instant Challenges – drives, approach shots and putts – that you can earn GamerNet points at without having to navigate through various online menus. And if you hit a great shot that you’d like to post as a GamerNet challenge yourself it’s just a button press away; though I often ran into difficulty connecting to the EA servers while uploading my shots.
Arguably the most important addition to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is the new Instant Feedback Meter. There were numerous complaints last year of golfers hitting wayward shots and cursing that the analog stick was too sensitive, or that they didn’t know what they were doing wrong. That will be nothing more than an excuse this time around now that the Feedback Meter tracks both your back swing and follow through, showing you exactly when and how your swing is faltering. For those unable to compensate for the natural hook or slice in their stroke, EA has also included a new Club Tuner. Here, golfers can adjust their club sets to help counter their hooks and slices, as well as increase the distance of their shots at the cost of less accuracy. The Club Tuner is a wonderful new addition that golfers of all skill levels will find incredibly useful.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 isn’t without a few bogeys, if you’ll pardon the term. While the game has received a bit of a visual upgrade, with better-looking water and terrain in particular, there is still the odd glitch here and there. For instance, I’ve seen spectators with missing heads in the gallery, and I’ve sunk several putts that took more than a few seconds to register. For the most part the sound is great, though the commentating from newcomers Kelly Tilghman and Sam Torrance is even more subdued than usual. There are times when you wonder what the AI opponents are thinking as well. If they hit their ball into a dense forested area, rather than take a stroke and just hit the ball back into the fairway they’ll always try to fight their way through, taking three or four extra shots to do so.
As I said, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is a more polished and better-organized version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08. From the Performance Coach to the new Tiger Challenge format, from the Feedback Meter to the Club Tuner, from the Simultaneous Online Play to the GamerNet Instant Challenges, the new additions and upgrades made to this year’s edition of Tiger Woods PGA Tour are outstanding. If it’s been a few years since you played a round on the virtual links, there’s no better time to reserve your tee time with Tiger. And even if you own Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, I absolutely recommend you renew your clubhouse membership.