Review: 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010'

A COUPLE YARDS IN FRONT OF MY TELEVISION – At least one of golf’s longstanding truths fell apart last weekend following a variety of golf swings both at the Memorial and inside my living room.

Tiger Woods hit every fairway with the same, efficient stroke during a final-round 65 that won him his second PGA Tour victory of the year at Muirfield.

I hit six fairways with at least six different swings during a first-round 76 that would have been worse had I not hit the power button on my Nintendo Wii after making triple-bogey on Bethpage Black’s 16th.

After a five-minute cool down, I stayed inside to toss the ol’ frisbee around at Pebble Beach.

Yet all I could think about was my golf swing – unlike Tiger, I’d never been that inaccurate.

Especially not at a U.S. Open.

• • •

“Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010,” clearly the Tiger Woods of home golf video games, hit store shelves and mothers’ wallets around the country Monday, just hours following Woods’ comeback victory at Memorial – or as EA Sports executives are rumored to be calling it, the Promotional.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not shilling for EA Sports here; if you’re a golfer and a gamer, this is an annual $49.99 no-brainer, unless you can afford the full-scale golf simulator and the third garage to put it in.

There just isn’t a better alternative at this moment (we’ll talk about what Sony and Microsoft are doing some other time), especially if you own a Nintendo Wii ($249). I purchased my Wii because of this game, not the other way around.

Perhaps for some of the same reasons “Halo” or “Call of Duty” fans like to shoot invading aliens and soldiers, I simply enjoy the fact I can swing a controller (aka WiiMote) like a driver or a putter, and play 18 holes at places like Kiawah Island or Torrey Pines in about 20 minutes before work – dressed like Henrik Stenson at Doral.

I’m not a huge fan of violence in video games. I just like to kill drives and watch putts die into the hole, that’s all.

This year, the swing mechanics are the story, as they have undergone the most significant changes in the four years since the title debuted on the Wii console. (The actual “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” franchise dates back to 1998.)

At the center of these changes is the brand-new Wii MotionPlus accessory, which attaches easily to the bottom of the WiiMote, and is available for purchase with the game for an extra 10 bucks.

The device delivers in its promise to enhance motion controls – and in this case, the feel and touch of the golf swing, and shaping shots in various directions – which is what separated the Wii version from the other consoles in the first place.

The swing experience wasn’t at all horrible in last year’s game, but at times it felt a bit clunky and often undemanding, making it difficult to forget the last time you’d missed a fairway.

I’d always been a better digital driver of the golf ball than the real Tiger, but after Woods’ 14-for-14 fairways performance at Memorial, that claim is currently up in the air.

This year, gamers are faced with near-perfect 1:1 swing motion controls that at first will make most weekend hackers wonder why they are playing a golf video game that seems more difficult than real golf, at least on Advanced Swing mode. (Easy options are available for the kids and grandparents.)

In the game’s first four versions, it seemed more difficult to hit a draw or fade than hit it straight down the fairway. This year, if you don’t pay attention to – Pardon me as I jump into Unofficial Digital Hank Haney Mode – keeping your WiiMote flat and on the same line from backswing through impact, you’re going to end up throwing your WiiMote straight into the garbage. (Or lake, depending if your window is open and you live next to a lake.)

You actually have to focus, whether you’re trying to keep your club face square at impact or fade, draw, slice or hook the ball around a tree. Early on, I even found myself keeping my head down throughout the entire swing as if a ball was really sitting on the ground. (You might even want to put one there at first.)

It’s equal parts challenge and entertainment, a winning formula when it comes to golf games and replay value. (The rather seamless online play and tournaments also help in that aspect.)

The new “Precision Putting” system, another result of the Wii MotionPlus, might be my favorite addition to the game, even better than the real-time weather conditions (which means if it’s raining on Long Island, it’s raining in your room at Bethpage, and the ball’s not going to go as far). It’s also the best improvement, considering last year’s awkward putting style that led to a lot of five-footers left short.

In past years, gamers would choose from a range of putters, depending on the length of the putt. This year, there is only one putter for everything from 0 to 120 feet, which adds a good amount of feel and touch to the game. Last year, you could take a full swing at five-inch putt and not worry about it going in. Don’t try that this year; perform a tapping motion with your WiiMote as if it’s a real 5-inch putt, unless you want to have a 45-footer coming back.

• • •

While we may never get a digital reproduction of Augusta National in this game (sigh), you can tell from this year’s version that there is a growing understanding and appreciation of authenticity.

The game is being released early this year (as opposed to a typically fall release date) to catch the hype from next week’s U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, which is officially recognized in this year’s game for the first time.

It’s the game’s first major, replacing that “U.S. Major Championship” we’re so used to seeing. Along with Bethpage, Turnberry (site of this summer’s British Open, pictured above) and Hazeltine (PGA Championship) are also in the game, creating pretty much a best-case scenario for people like me that get annoyed every time the “Southern Major Championship” at Pinehurst No. 2 pops up.

The “Tournament Challenge” scenarios provide similar aesthetics, giving you the chance to recreate such moments as Woods’ game-winning putt at Bay Hill last year and his U.S. Open playoff duel with Rocco Mediate, who has also been added to the game along with Anthony Kim.

This year, the Wii also caught up to the other consoles by adding much-needed spectators; but I was disappointed to see that I still could not upload my “Photo GameFace” to put on my character, a cool feature available on the other consoles.

I’m never thrilled with the commentating, but the addition of ESPN’s sometimes-kooky Scott Van Pelt helps along with the new in-game broadcast-style updates are an improvement.

Attention to detail has been raised, even when it comes down to the new “Disc Golf” feature, which allows you play frisbee golf (Frolf!) on any of the 27 courses available on the game (11 more than the XBOX and Playstation 3 consoles).

I hate to even admit this, but it’s perhaps the most fun add-on I’ve seen in a sports game.

Even until I got my new Wii MotionPlus swing somewhat under control, I was having a much less stressful time trying to hit the island 17th green at Sawgrass with a frisbee, rather than a 9-iron.

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