Those new headline features mentioned earlier also help a little. The performance coach – Tiger’s real life coach, Hank Haney – is supposed to watch your play and provide you with useful, custom exercises after each event to work out the wrinkles in the various aspects of your game. In actuality, the exercises are repetitive and don’t seem that well personalised, but for a while at least you’ll find them a useful way to experiment and work out what went wrong on particular shots (and you’ll also get boosts to your stats while you work out). The club tuner, meanwhile, allows you to adjust each club in the bag. Altering one aspect, like the length of the initial pre-bounce arc, will affect others, making it hard to build ridiculous super clubs, but if you have a persistent problem with hooking or slicing it’s possible to adjust your clubs to compensate. You can check out the results on the driving range, and even get advice from good old Hank on how effective your tinkering seems to be.
The icing on the cake for the lone-wolf Tiger Woods fan is the course selection, which is the strongest this generation to date (with 24 to Tiger 08’s 22). Sheshan Golf Club near Shanghai is a superb new addition, with lush, tree-lined holes that almost blind you to the menacing bunkers and fearsome, if beautiful, water hazards. Wolf Creek in Nevada is a stunning blend of green holes and desert scenery, while Wentworth Country Club will be a popular inclusion for UK golfers (just down the road from the TR office in fact).
Things get even better when you go online. First, EA has better integrated the EA Sports GamerNet features introduced last year, with more instant challenges that pop up while you’re just playing a round, and the chance to upload your own in minutes without spoiling the current game. Second, like Everybody’s Golf, it’s now possible to play three other players online simultaneously, each of you taking shots at the same time and watching as the other balls leave swooping coloured trails over the landscape. It makes the game much faster moving and more exciting, and once you’ve tried it it’s unlikely that you’ll want to go back to the old way of doing things.
Overall, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that this is the game Tiger 08 could and should have been – something that will certainly annoy anyone who plumped up cold cash for last year’s iteration. However, while the differences aren’t huge by themselves, put them all together and this is a major improvement. If you didn’t buy Tiger 08, then you can happily buy Tiger 09 in the knowledge that you’re buying the best ‘serious’ golf game out there, even if PS3 owners with a copy of Everbody’s Golf: World Tour might disagree. The problem for EA is that, after this, it will be hard to make a case for a Tiger Woods 2010. I don’t imagine that will put EA off for a second, but after scratching for new features this time around, I can’t imagine what else there is to add.
A marked improvement on Tiger Woods 08. Despite some graphical disappointments this is the HD-era golf game we’ve been waiting for (if you don’t count Everybody’s Golf: World Tour).