Since 1998, Tiger Woods has given his name and likeness to EA's PGA Tour series of golf simulators - a genre in which, like their star, they have risen to the top. For Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, the nine-time PGA Player of the Year has brought his coach, Hank Haney, to guide you through two of the game's brand new features - Dynamic Skills and the Club Tuner.
Dynamic Skills are an integral part of the character creation tool, adjusting your golfer's attributes according to each shot. Hit the fairway from a drive, for example, and your character's shot power will receive a boost. However, miss the green or land in a bunker from the resulting shot and your short game attributes may suffer. In-between rounds, Coach Haney will point out your strengths and weaknesses, and provide personalised training drills. It's a system that allows the player to improve their character through good play, and demands consistency to keep those attributes high.
The Club Tuner transports the player to a virtual driving range where they can tweak clubs to their exact specifications. All of the various club sets that can be won in the game's career modes can be tuned, allowing you to adjust the power, loft, spin and sweet spot and then test the results on the range, with Haney on hand once again to assess your set-up.
The first port of call for most players is to create their character, and this is one of the areas in which Tiger Woods PGA Tour games have always excelled. It's possible to create very realistic likenesses, while the system remains intuitive and easy to use. Alternatively, you can upload a photograph of yourself to EA's website and a character with your likeness will then be available in the game.
The PGA Tour Season mode allows you to play through five seasons on the PGA Tour, attempting to win one of the 30 places available in the FedExCup. During the course of the season you'll get to play on 16 of the world's most famous courses, such as Pebble Beach, California and Wentworth in England, and take on the likes of Colin Montgomery and Vijay Singh.
Tiger Challenge mode provides quick challenges, such as completing a hole from the bunker within a set number of strokes or hitting the longest drive. Complete enough challenges and you get to play against one of the game's top pros, the tenth and last of which is Tiger Woods himself. Tiger Challenge is quick, addictive and fun, and offers a nice contrast to the lengthier PGA Tour Season mode.
If you just feel like a round of golf, either alone or with up to three friends, there are dozens of match types, all with customisable options, to try. These include Stroke Play, Match Play, Four-Ball, Best Ball and something called Bingo Bango Bongo, where points are awarded for the first player on the green, the nearest to the pin and the best score. There are also eight great mini-games, such as Target, where you must aim for brightly coloured targets and a Putting Contest.
Online, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is exceptional, not only in the dedicated modes available but also in how online elements integrate seamlessly into the single player campaigns. Sometimes when teeing off, you're able to see the longest drives of other players, and even attempt the challenges they have set. Playing directly against others online is better than ever, thanks to Simultaneous Play, which means you no longer have to wait for your opponents to take their shots. Everyone plays at the same time, with rival shots appearing as brightly coloured arcs. It works brilliantly, ensuring you're never left merely watching the action while also keeping you up to speed with what the opposition is doing.
Like their cover star, Tiger Woods PGA Tour games keep getting better, and the latest instalment retains the excellent creation mode, flexible match settings and engrossing career mode of its predecessors, and introduces enough new features, both online and offline, to improve the experience.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 is a superb sports game with all the depth to satisfy golf enthusiasts and enough accessibility and fun gameplay to cater for those who consider it a good walk spoiled.