Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 First Hands-On

While Tiger attacks Torrey Pines, we take on EA Sports' upcoming golf game.

SAN DIEGO--Although the world ran out of superlatives long ago to describe Tiger Woods' talent on the golf course, you can still sit and watch, mouth agape, as he continues to rewrite the history books with each major outing. You need look no further than the third round of the 2008 U.S. Open for proof of that; playing on a surgically repaired knee that was clearly bothering him, Tiger managed to counterbalance his inaccurate drivers with some amazing recovery shots, phenomenal putting, and, as evidenced by that miraculous chip-in on 17, not a little luck. The only way that most of us will get anywhere near that kind of performance is in a video game. While in San Diego to check out some U.S. Open action, we also had a chance to see and play the most recent build of EA Sports' latest golf game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, a game that aims to help you become the best virtual duffer you can be.

Amid all the new features in Tiger 09, perhaps the most visible addition is that of Hank Haney, who serves as Woods' real-life golf coach and, in Tiger 09, your mentor in the game (read about our time with Hank on the GameSpot Sports Blog). When you first fire up the game, Haney will be there to assess your skills in four crucial aspects: power, accuracy, short game, and putting. Playing through each of the four sets of minigames is similar to the challenges in previous Tiger games but, at the end of your skills evaluation, you'll be given a numerical assessment of each of your four skills. Thanks to the dynamic attributes in Tiger 09 (which replace last year's confidence system), it won't be long before those baseline attribute scores start quickly going up. You can achieve a maximum score of 10 for each rating, which can be boosted a further two points depending on the kind of gear that your golfer's using.

Tiger Woods dominates on the course...

Naturally, the easiest way to get a big boost is to play a full round of golf. We set off for 18 at TPC at Sawgrass and fell right into the swing of things. From a control standpoint, the game doesn't feel like a big departure from previous entries in the series. On the default difficulty level, the right stick's swing feels as good as ever, but a new meter in the lower left-hand side of the screen will trace the exact path that your stick takes from the backswing all the way to the follow-through. In our case, we noticed a consistent tendency to start our backswing a little bit left of center; that type of factor didn't affect our ball striking on the default difficulty level, but it might be a problem once you bump things up a notch or two.

During our time with the game, we ran through Sawgrass, played a bit at the new Shanghai course, Sheshan, checked out 18 at Pebble Beache (complete with new roaring-wave effects that crash onto the shore), and also played nine holes at our favorite new course, the gorgeous and immensely challenging Wolf Creek. After playing full rounds, you'll get the chance to revisit some of your "special" moments on the course with Hank Haney, such as the long drive that we dunked in the sand on 14 at Sheshan, or that shot out of the rough that we managed to land in the drink at Wolf Creek. You'll get a chance to revisit an errant shot and then try to figure out what you did wrong and (more importantly) how to correct it with instant challenges.

In the case of the bad drive at Sheshan, Hank set up a power challenge for us, with the goal being to hit the ball into a circle near where we should have been aiming in the first place. We passed that challenge on the first try, which offered us a small boost to our power attribute. We were also offered a bonus-round challenge, which asked us to repeat that same shot as many times as we could in 60 seconds. For each successful attempt, we'd earn a tiny attribute boost and more time would be added to the clock. After our initial success, we managed to pull a big fat zero in the bonus round. Luckily we weren't penalized for melting down; bonus rounds are there strictly to reward the player.

... and so will you, if you listen to your virtual coach Hank Haney.

After a round, the game (and Hank) will present a set of challenges to you, and you can choose to play them immediately or put them off until later. If you choose to try them later, the most recent challenges will be saved in the Tiger Challenge menu, which you can access at any time. The game will always present to you challenges in each of the four attribute categories--power, accuracy, short game, and putting--so you'll always have the ability to at least attempt improving your standing. It should be noted that, though you have plenty of opportunities for improving your attributes in Tiger 09, the dynamic-attribute system in the game also means that your skills can drop if you have a particularly bad outing. You might notice some big drops in the early goings of the game, as you gain experience on the various courses, but any performance blips won't affect your overall skills that much.

We've compared the new club-tuning feature in Tiger 09 to tuning a race car in the past but, having played with it a bit during our hands-on time with the game, it's apparent that the analogy is more apt than we previously thought. By accessing the club-tuning menu, you're taken to a driving range where, after hitting a few shots with various clubs so Haney can get a look at your swing, you're given full authority to tune your clubs for everything from power, to loft, and even swing bias (so, for example, you can accommodate for your propensity to push the ball left on your follow-through).

Dynamic attributes will change as you find success, or failure, on the course.

Much like some racing games, tuning can be seen as an advanced skill. After all, though you might be tempted to jack up the power ratings for every club in your bag, that boost comes at the cost of the so-called "sweet spot." Sure, you might rake off the tee with your power-boosted clubs, but you'll also have a much larger chance of missing the fairway or, worse yet, sending your ball flying into the woods. As a result, much as with tuning a high-performance race car, it's all about compromise; how much accuracy can you sacrifice at the expense of power? How much extra loft do you want to add, if it means that your ball is going to travel less off the tee?

Of course, the answers depend on what you're trying to accomplish on each course. For example, if you know that the next course you're playing has extremely fast greens, you might want to add loft to your wedges to reduce the amount that the ball rolls when it hits the green. We liked the ability to save your club tunings after you've got them where you like them, but we would like to see the ability to save club "sets" for various courses and situations. Why not have a wet-course tuning, or a "windy, Pebble Beach, fast greens" tuning that you could instantly access after you've spent the time designing them? As it stands now, if you want to get granular with your club selection and tuning, you'll have to do it in-between each round that you head out to play.

That said, club tuning is not essential to have fun (or even find success) in Tiger 09. If you don't want to mess with adjusting the loft of your woods, you can simply have the game adjust your clubs based on Hank Haney's assessment of your swing with a press of the button.

The Tiger Challenge, which received an overhaul in last year's game, has been revamped again. This time, you'll be taking on various fictional and real players in a more linear set of challenges that include everything from long-drive challenges and shot-accuracy tests to head-to-head rounds. To move through the mode and on to different golfers, you'll need to achieve a certain number of points, and the different challenges available to you will award you points depending on length and degree of difficulty. Also, you won't earn gold, silver, or bronze medals in this year's Tiger Challenge; this time around, it's either pass or fail.

Last year's Tiger introduced the Gamernet feature, which let players record, save, and upload shots they'd made, at which point other players could download and try to beat (or at least match) those same shots. Although last year's implementation of Gamernet felt separate from the main game, with Tiger 09, the feature will be more integrated into the single-player game. We didn't get a chance to check it out for ourselves, but we understand that challenges will always be available to you on each hole that you play. For example, if you hit an exceptionally long drive, you might beat that day's drive record for that hole, and then you'll have the ability to easily upload your new record for other players to try to beat.

Don't like the way your club feels? Change it up with the new club tuning feature.

Other features in the online portion of Tiger include simultaneous online play for up to four players, which sounds like a lot of fun. If you're looking to top out your created player without having to go through the rigmarole of actually, you know, playing the game, then you'll be able to purchase accessories (such as a giant bunny outfit or an astronaut's getup) that will automatically maximize your golfer's attributes. EA hasn't announced the cost of these special items yet--and, frankly, the idea of buying your skills sounds a bit cheap to us--but the option will be there for the lazy among us.

The Tiger Woods PGA Tour series has always treaded the line between simulation and arcade golf. At the highest difficulty level, you won't be able to do things like spin the ball in midair, or get the putt-preview camera that shows you the line that your ball will take to the cup. That said, like many of this year's crop of EA Sports games, Tiger 09 is aiming to ensure that new players will feel comfortable right away when swinging the stick, whether their thanks will go to Hank Haney's virtual advice or their ability to tune their clubs the way they want them. How much will features like these improve your virtual golf game? You'll be able to find out when Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 ships in late August.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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49 comments
OLEROS
OLEROS

Plz reply to my question 1:Will there be titleist in the game i mean balls and clubs and appearal? :Will u be able to choose shaft for every club: I mean that u can steel shaft the driver and will there be steelshafts?

SkeletalKnight
SkeletalKnight

@boondagger9801 I agree with you about the item stats thing, in '06 you could move the bonuses between pieces of gear so you could always have the bonuses whatever you were wearing. I hope that system comes back for '09. If not I'll just forego the bonuses to make sure I can give my character the clothes I want.

maverick_76
maverick_76

Wow, all this because Tiger does not like hockey, eh?

speedjunkie4
speedjunkie4

WTF is people saying bad things about Canada? Dont you all know something called respect for your fellow countrymen?

boondagger9801
boondagger9801

As a long time Tiger Woods fan, why is the "equipment" system so amazingly broken? Why does my created golfer have to wear a purple shirt with yellow stripes because the game says it gives me a boost to my power? why not have... i dunno, real sponsors with... i dunno, real gear? let the sponsors decide which gear is the most valuable/powerful? i am a huge fan of customization but the equipment aspect of last year's Tiger Woods was atrocious, simply sad. I hope they overhaul that system, it's sorely needed.

norfliver_basic
norfliver_basic

The Wii version will be the one to get ! Tiger Woods 07 on 360... Now, i'll give the wii one a chance and i get the feeling i won't be deceived !

dudeski89
dudeski89

Baseball is absolutely a sport. Quit making us Canadians seem like complete "I'm better than you" jerk-offs. Golf requires a ridiculous amount skill and focus that rivals anything. Baseball too, except they do it with screaming fans. "Yea other than supplying most of you're energy, food, oil and well.... pretty much everything" Please, something like 10-20% of America's imports are Canadian but around 50% of our exports go to America. We don't supply most of their anything (aside from maybe California's energy). If they didn't want our goods, they'd find 'em somewhere else and we'd be sunk.

saturn20
saturn20

i won't be happy til they allow multiple players to play in PGA Season mode.

housy2008
housy2008

Wow, this is why I avoid Canadiens, saying BASEBALL isn't a sport is like saying people don't like money. Ridiculous

daman1616
daman1616

"Everyone you know watches hockey cause your in Canada. The place that the world know's for Maple Syrup and... well, that sums it up." Yea other than supplying most of you're energy, food, oil and well.... pretty much everything since the Canada/U.S. trade relationship is the largest ever to exist between 2 nations. but yes mmmmmmmm maple syrup. : )

Go_Away_Kid
Go_Away_Kid

Yeah thats the joke hellastoned.... thanx for making it obvious. I like that sort of Arrogant sense of humor like Cobert.

HellaStoned
HellaStoned

go away kid seems like he is not too smart. quit embarrassing us americans... we have enough of that already, dude! we're famous for being dumb, and you're the proof in the pudding! ;)

Go_Away_Kid
Go_Away_Kid

I agree with Asdaprice2, Tiger 08' was pretty good with the sensitive thumbstick but once i got the hang of it, it was to easy again. You have a good idea but i think that they think it wont sell, and it probably wont. :(

Go_Away_Kid
Go_Away_Kid

Why are we listening to this guy? Canada is not even a real country. Everyone you know watches hockey cause your in Canada. The place that the world know's for Maple Syrup and... well, that sums it up.

ballashotcalla8
ballashotcalla8

percuvius obviously lives in canada, and doesn't know that baseball is watched by 10 million more people than hockey is.

guppieface
guppieface

wow everything looks unrealistic, but the DS version will be fun because of the stylus controls. I actually just bought the '08 one for my plane trip. i had the 1st DS one too

MichaeltheCM
MichaeltheCM

wow everything looks so realistic! :o especially Tiger

muzza93
muzza93

You better be able to create a golf course in tiger woods 09,

nirvanalvr12
nirvanalvr12

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Sevey13
Sevey13

These are games that, honestly, are only fun on the Wii.

itwiz90
itwiz90

The game mechanics are pretty straight forward. I rented Tiger Woods earlier versions and it was fun for a minute. It's a game thats gets people into golf that probably wouldn't think about actually playing the real sport. Don't you want to be like Tiger and put the ball where you call it?

Asdaprice2
Asdaprice2

I'd like to see someone make a golf game that didn't involve just picking where you want the ball to land. It's all a bit of a cop out and not really a fun gameplay mechanic. Why does nobody make a game where you basically just have to aim your players body and try and judge the distance. Thats like a football game that lets you pick exactly where you're shot is going to hit land in the goal.

kingcranium
kingcranium

@percuvius hockey sucks. baseball is the best sport ever and is also a hard sport to be good at. maybe you just suck at every other sport thats why you dont like it.

blackhawk887
blackhawk887

@ percuvius then why are you reading the preview for this game? why don't you go play your NHL game that is a 'REAL' sport. golf is competitive enough to qualify as a sport. each shot requires immense determination and precise control to get a desired result, i'm sorry that some golfers can't qualify for the olympics but it takes a lot of patience and mind control to be good at golf. hockey is a good sport, don't get me wrong, but don't come on here and start bashing golf for no reason... the club tuning feature seems cool, but it'll probably suck as much as '08. '07 was the last good one. the graphics do look exceptionally good though, but i'll say it's not worth the buy this year.

golfmanmatt
golfmanmatt

Needs to keep gamerface. And adding in some weather effects would be good. Also, the MP options need to be improved. Tournament atmosphere.

shivadee_basic
shivadee_basic

As for this new Tiger Woods, I like the improved visuals (mostly lighting) but they REALLY need to work on character modeling. Tiger still has a stone face that is expressionless, and with today's titles that is unacceptable. @ percuvius2 "Almost everyone I know watches NHL hockey on TV,....." how much is that? All 5? 10? 50? 80?.....all miniscule and unimportant numbers automatically meaning your point is moot, whatever it is. I do agree that I wont watch Poker, Bowling or Curling on TV, but it doesn't mean people don't watch it or don't believe its a sport, I do watch Golf at times, and Hockey, Football, Baseball and Soccer and such sports. You sound like Chris Conrad in Airborne saying that Surfing isn't a sport, and is all adamant about Hockey being "ubar leet". Ignorance is bliss i guess.

KingOfTheNubeis
KingOfTheNubeis

I'm still playing "Tiger Woods 2005" LOL. It was a real step forward,you could customize your character earn and spend money won on the tour and torn'es & play against "Great Legends".I like playing against Jack Nicklaus. Every time I look at the latest versions they have slight'ly better graphics......... and thats about it.

PiercePlatinum
PiercePlatinum

Hockey sucks. Baseball rules. So does football and golf.

volcomstoner180
volcomstoner180

this game better be good...the lasts couple years have sucked big time such promise for this series too...almost as much promise as tigers real life golf skills

DVS23
DVS23

completely agree, golf can be the most frustrating sport at times, they should make you swing your club accordingly to the type of shot you want to hit, such as adjusting your grip, choking up on the club, ball placement on the club face etc.. but i guess they don't want kids freaking out smashing their controllers every time they hook a ball into the lake

Grende1
Grende1

I never buy EA sports games every year. There just aren't enough advancements each year to warrant a purchase. I usually wait at least 2, sometimes 3 years, to buy another EA sports game in a genre I already own.

Zoomer30
Zoomer30

It better not be a chop fest on the PS3 like it was last year.

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

If this is just another typical EA 'Minor update' that added Tiger's CADDIE ((BIg Whoop)... I may check out the Wii version for something fresh. And what's with that deep voice Herman Munster sounding announcer? He sounds half asleep after a great shot. #1 gripe with this game for me is EA really needs to get rid of that 'aftertouch/STEERING the ball BS... where after you make a bad shot you can steer it back on course. Golf is humbling. You set your spin,hook/slice settings BEFORE the shot... and then deal with the results! This after the shot moving the ball in flight is beyond the most BOGUS thing EVER in a sports SIM.

littlemc6969
littlemc6969

I dont see a need for a golf game every year. this is followig the same course as madden. crappy progress that is getting on everyones nerve. Since there is not a ton a new talent in these games from year to year, and the graphics are not getting much better. How about releasing a game every 2-3 years. Maybe someone at EA can get an Idea that will be worth something at that point.

games100
games100

08 did suck, you are right Beesters

Beesters
Beesters

08 sucked....how can we say that 09 will be any better?

Saren_Arterius
Saren_Arterius

Yeah another tiger victory today. As for the game, looks good. Loved 04 and that kept me busy for a long time, so this should be good.

H_U_R_D
H_U_R_D

the final playoff hole: best the i have ever seen from tiger speaking of the game, it looks good, but i havent played a pga tour game since 04...so i'll have to check it out first

darobinson67
darobinson67

AT LEAST this game has a new female announcer, nice change of pace dosent make it worth buying though

GoldenGun
GoldenGun

well I'll try the demo first, but the series can only get better from here since last year's tanked.

hollans
hollans

Do you still have to press a button 3 times in order to get to your shot. I hate having to watch the animations of my guy everytime. There should be a way to turn that off ..

padde1
padde1

Well that looks exactly the same as the previous 4 bone idle attempts at destroying a great game! EA Sports make me laugh. Not since 2004 have we had a decent Tiger Woods game. What happened??? Its the small stuff that makes the difference sometimes....and its been shoddy for sometime now. The putting swing that knocks it 50 feet off the green and yet it sinks from a foot...NONSENSE EA you cowboys!!! Stop ripping us off. I havent purchased a TW game since 07 which was pants! Full of bugs and just pants...if you played it you will now what I mean. Seems 09 looks exactly the same, im not surprised, just have to wait another year to see if some decent programmers take over from lazEA! Only to have my hopes dashed. Did I hear boycott?? Surely with all our money and all that time you can do better than this!

bigmick07
bigmick07

yeah after watching tiger and mediate at torrey pines i kinda digg the whole golf thing and am looking foward to maybe buying this game