PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09

EA Tiburon's nip and tuck approach adds up to a significantly enhanced virtual golf experience.

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genres: Sports
Price: $59.99
Multimedia: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, iPhone
Number of players: 1-4
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Electronic Arts Tiburon
US release date: 2008-08-26
Developer website

I have a long love affair with electronic golf games. I sank hundreds of hours into the original Links series. I devoted weeks to building an immaculate reproduction of Augusta National in Jack Nicklaus Signature Edition's course designer, and I have relished innumerable head-to-head battles in Hot Shots Golf, Mario Golf, and other great and not-so-great golf games.

I am a fairly serious golfer in my so-called real life, but I live in a climate that prevents me from playing for six months out of the year. So golf games provide a certain vicarious experience for me that I don't associate with other sports -- all of which may help explain why I have never particularly enjoyed the Tiger Woods series of games.

Dating back to its roots as World Tour Golf, I have played nearly every annual iteration, and year after year I find myself thinking the same thoughts: these games are slick and well-produced, but essentially soulless. They're full of pizzazz, but feel cold. They lack the spirit of the real game, which is a problem for a series that purports to deliver a realistic simulation of golf.

So when this year's edition, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, arrived at my door, I expected more of the same. But a funny thing happened on the way to the clubhouse. Walking off the 18th green after a scintillating match-play duel with Vijay Singh at the nasty/gorgeous TPC Sawgrass, it hit me. This is the golf game I have been waiting for. This is the best Tiger Woods game I've ever played. This may quite possibly be the best golf game ever made.

How did it happen? Well, I can tell you how it didn't happen. Tiger Woods 09 is not an overhaul of last year's game, nor does it contain a long list of new features. At first glance, it looks like just another installment in the franchise. But a closer look reveals a myriad of improvements and upgrades -- sort of an aggressive nip and tuck approach by EA Tiburon -- all of which add up to a significantly enhanced experience for gamers.

EA has clearly committed itself to implementing adaptive technologies into its sports games. This year's Madden includes an "Adaptive Difficulty Engine" that constantly assesses your skills and tailors the gameplay to match your style. Overall, it works unevenly, but the idea is a sound one.

Tiger Woods 09 matches this feature with one that works better and feels more aligned with the ebb and flow of golf. "Dynamic Skills" enable the game to respond to your play, fluctuating with your performance as it improves or declines. Instead of accumulating points for grinding through challenges, the game rewards you for improving your skills. If you're knocking down pins with your short irons, the game rewards you with increased shotmaking proficiency in that area. If you play a couple of rounds hitting poor iron shots, your attributes will decrease. This gameplay refinement adds a strong element of realism to the simulation and helps separate the game from needless RPG leveling-up mimicry.

Longtime virtual golfers may remember the pre-analog swing stick days with some fondness. In older games the backswing and downswing were controlled by timed button presses that may not have accurately simulated the feel of an actual swing, but offered precise control and a fair challenge. Golf games began mapping the swing to the thumbstick a few years ago, and even though it makes sense on a simulation level, this control system has never felt comfortable to me. The position of my hands on a gamepad seem unconducive to a straight up and down movement of the stick, resulting in slices and hooks that feel arbitrary at best.

Tiger Woods 09 is the first game to address this problem in a meaningful way. Its "Club Tuner" feature lets you calibrate your clubs, from wedges to driver, to accommodate how you actually swing. A virtual version of Tiger Woods' coach Hank Haney will take you to a driving range and show you -- via tracking marks that reflect your movement of the thumbstick -- how you are actually swinging the club. You may then head to the workshop to adjust your clubs to the way you swing; or, as in my case, you can learn not to curve the stick on your downswing by practicing on the range and monitoring that yellow tracking line. As in previous versions of the game, a three-point power gauge is available for players who prefer it, but with Hank available to help you, the thumbstick method finally feels like the right way to swing a club.

Tiger Woods 09 adds other useful improvements, such as a new online mode featuring 4-player simultaneous play, clearly stolen, er, inspired by Hot Shots Golf. You needn't wait for each player to hit before making your shot, which speeds up play considerably. As in Hot Shots Golf, other players' shots are indicated by real-time colored streaks that appear as the foursome plays the hole at the same time.

Instant challenges also appear, via EA Sports Gamernet, inviting you to compete in daily leaderboard challenges for long drive, approach shots and putting. These pop up unobtrusively and can be skipped, but they offer a fun social networking option for players who want to compete. Saved shots from each day's winners can be viewed online via a menu option in the game.

Graphically, this year's version looks terrific, with enhanced water, terrain and trees. I am happy to report that this is the first version of Tiger Woods to get skies right. They are beautiful and dynamic, and even include, finally, haze. The spectator models and animations have also been given long-overdue attention. Playing this game is finally the visual treat it should be.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 may be the most fully-realized sports game EA has ever made. It has nearly everything I want in a golf game. Everything, that is, except a course designer. This glaring omission -- the most requested feature for a decade, inexplicably ignored by EA -- is really the only thing preventing this game from scoring an ace. Hey, EA: somewhere in that Spore/SimCity mega-toolset is a powerful and easy to use course designer just waiting for its place on the Tiger Woods 2010 menu screen. Make it happen.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.