As with each new version of so many other golf series, the first thing that most PC golf sim fans will want to know about Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 is whether they should buy it if they already have the 2000 edition. PGA Tour 2001 offers no major changes to the gameplay and graphics of its predecessor. Therefore, if you already own last year's version, your decision to own the new one will largely depend on how many courses you already have, how much you want to compete in a President's Cup tourney, and whether you care about competing against two additional PGA Tour pros. Otherwise, if you don't already have last year's installment, then the 17 courses that ship with the 2001 edition make it a real bargain, provided you've got a rig that far exceeds the game's minimum system requirements.
The 17 courses are unquestionably the biggest appeal of PGA Tour 2001. Nearly a dozen are Tournament Players Courses, and they cover just about every type of golfing environment you can imagine, from deserts and flat coastal plains to courses snaking through gorgeous mountains. All your favorites are available - Sawgrass, Heron Bay, Pipers Glen, Scottsdale, and Prestancia, just to name a few - and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club (site of this year's President's Cup) is an especially welcome addition to the extensive library of courses provided with the game. Two other new courses - TPC Sugarloaf and TPC River Highlands - round out the collection.
The whole point of the Tiger Woods series has been to re-create the thrill of PGA competition, which goes a long way toward explaining the mere handful of non-PGA pro animations you can choose from when creating a golfer. As in the Links games, PGA Tour 2001 uses digitized motion videos for most of the PGA and amateur golfers, but for some reason, Stuart Appleby and Jim Furyk are represented with 3D-rendered figures - and pretty awful ones at that. Both of them look as if they're afflicted with debilitating arthritis as they awkwardly grip their clubs, and the rendering of Michael Jordan - yes, EA Sports once again included His Airness in the golfer lineup - is the same washed-out image from last year's edition. While Tiger's own motion-capture footage is crisp and well defined, that level of detail doesn't extend to the other golfers. Many are blurry and nondescript, and they fall far short of the stunning photo-realism of the players in the newest installment of Links.
Thankfully, the courses look a lot better than the golfers. PGA Tour 2001 seems to use the same graphics engine as last year's version, but this time around, the game runs more smoothly on midrange systems. On a Pentium 450MHz with 256MB RAM and a TNT 2, frame rates were acceptable at a 1024x768 resolution with graphical details set to ultrahigh (but with the picture-in-picture feature deactivated). You might see a bit of terrain shifting as the camera view follows the ball's flight, as well as slight graphical resets when the ball finally comes to a stop, but it's not a big problem. The game supports resolutions up to 1600x1200, but even at 1024x768, things look pretty sharp. However, you'll start to see a few jagged edges, especially on trees, when you drop down to resolutions below that.
EA Sports has always focused on creating good play-by-play commentary for its games, and it's one of the stronger points of PGA Tour 2001. Occasionally, the announcer will make a gaffe - once I heard him say, "Tiger hit that one flush and onto the fairway" after my golfer's shot landed in the rough - but generally the speech is both informative and entertaining. There are precious few ambient sound effects like the chirping of birds, but they aren't conspicuous by their absence.
Once you get out on the course, you'll find that the game uses the same play mechanics as in the 2000 version. Two swing modes are available: triple-click and pro swing, which is the easiest and least lifelike mouse swing ever created, because you can't hook or slice a shot with pro swing. The shot always goes in the direction of the aiming marker, and only the wind affects the flight path. Expect to hit monster drives of more than 290 yards all day long with pro swing, and once you learn how to adjust the sensitivity for chips and putts, you'll start doing pretty well in the short game, too. If you've had trouble mastering the mouse swings in other golf games, this simplified design might be what you've been looking for if you don't mind giving up a lot of the realism that's simulated by other mouse swings.
The triple-click mode will be instantly familiar to golf-sim fans, but it seems that the game punishes you quite severely for even slight miscues on the final click of the shot sequence. Otherwise, the ball physics seem quite sound, though once I saw a ball take a midair detour as if it'd hit an invisible wall. The game omits options for things such as changing stance, changing swing plane, and choosing how open or closed the club face is and instead gives you controls to automatically implement backspin. A good variety of shot types are available to choose from, including standard chips and punches as well as knockdowns, flops, bump-and-runs, and options to back down half a club in the swing strength.
That's standard stuff for golf sims, unlike the game's putting interface: It changes the distance of the swing meter in huge increments as you move the aiming marker. If you set the aiming marker at one point, then nailing the swing meter at the top means 20 feet on a flat green; but if you move it forward a little, the swing meter jumps to twice the distance. The development team apparently tried to make shorter putts proportionally easier by giving you more room to work with on the swing meter. This makes sense, as hitting a five-footer in another golf sim like Links 2001 can be troublesome because you have to click so rapidly to avoid overpowering the ball. But watching the swing gauge climb all the way to the top as you try to sink a three-footer definitely takes some getting used to. Fortunately, the online tutorial that's installed with the game is a big help, and it fills the gaps of the rather sparse printed manual. Ultimately, once you get used to the aiming system, it actually works pretty well.
Though direct TCP/IP connections aren't supported for Internet play, the PGA Tour 2001 game server makes finding matches and tournaments about as simple as you could hope for. You can play alone or with other PGA Tour 2001 owners in tournaments, and results are tracked online for two weeks after the event was created. Since you don't need to wait for other players to go, you can finish a round in relatively short order. Also, PGA Tour 2001 has an online "Play Against the Pro" feature that lets you see if you can beat the real-life performances of Tiger and many of the other PGA golfers featured in the series, but in a telling move, the pro swing option isn't available in this mode.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001 isn't a major step for the series, but its vast number of top-notch courses will make it worthwhile for many golf sim players. The improved graphics performance and multiplayer options since the last version also make it clear that developer Headgate Studios intends to make this series as authentic as possible. Even so, PGA Tour 2001 isn't quite at the level to challenge PGA Championship Golf or Links in terms of realism, but even fans of those series would admit that PGA Tour 2001 can be a lot of fun to play.