Up until around 18 months ago, a passing glance at the box of one of Electronic Arts officially licenced games was all you needed to know the current state of play in professional golf. One man’s image dominated those of all other players, almost to the point of exclusion. One man’s name preceded that of even the sport itself.
How things have changed.
The front cover of this year’s PGA Tour offering is like a Tiger Woods version of Where’s Whally. After some intense scrutiny, the former world number one can be located, but rather than looming larger than life over competitors, he’s now a distant figure with his back to the camera. It’s like EA have sent Tiger to stand in the naughty corner facing the wall as punishment for his extramarital indiscretions.
If ever EA needed a headlining new feature to divert attention away from its fallen star, now was the time. And whether through sheer persistence or desperation, fortune has (possibly quite literally) rewarded them with perhaps the one thing in golf that’s a bigger draw than its greatest player. It’s greatest tournament: The Masters.
Held every spring, The Masters has become the world’s most famous golfing event, and the most prized of the four Majors thanks to the iconic Augusta National Golf Club, where it permanently resides, and the green jackets awarded exclusively to its winners.
Having landed such a coup, EA seem keen to treat the competition with the special attention both they, and no doubt the August National, feel it deserves. The course has been scrutinized and duplicated with more precision than one in any Tiger game ever before, and walking its fairways will be an experience heighted in realism and exclusivity by a unique presentation package that includes TV broadcast-style commentary from CBS’s Jim Nantz and David Feherty.
Along with giving players the opportunity to recreate some of the most memorable performances in Masters history, from Tiger’s four wins to the triumphs of Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson, the game’s career mode has also been reconfigured with Augusta as the ultimate goal. Starting out on the obscurity of the amateur tour, the prospect of teeing off in the final pair on Masters’ Sunday may seem like a long shot, but as performances earn you experience points that enhance your playing abilities, sponsors shower you better equipment and the PGA Tour invites you to join its ranks, it becomes a more and more mouth-watering possibility.
Accompanying you at every step of this golfing odyssey will be your brand new caddie who will perform an assisting role very similar to the one carried out by his real life counterparts. Not only will he be there to advise you on possible options – from safe lay ups to all or nothing strikes at the flag – and help you read the greens, he’ll even set shots up for you, leaving you to concentrate solely on their execution. And as your skills and mastery of individual courses improve, so your caddie’s knowledge will grow and his advice become more accurate.
Of course, those who wish to set up every single shot themselves will be completely free to ignore what their caddy has to say. But with new courses such as TPC San Antonio, the Royal Melbourne Golf Club (the home of the 2011 President’s Cup, which replaces the Ryder Cup in the game as this year’s focus for team-based golf) and, of course, Augusta on the calendar, most players would be wise to give at least passing consideration to what their bag man has to say. Especially as you’ll once again be taking on many of the cream of the golfing world, including newcomers to the series such as Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson and the Molinari brothers.
With improved Move controls promised for the PS3, and a selection of fun par 3 courses, including Augusta’s own, also part of the package, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is going to take a lot of mastering when it’s released in the US on 29th March and the UK on 1st April 2011.
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