Hammering a button during your backswing while using the stick system gives you a power boost of up to 20 per cent, but such features are disabled in the Tour Pro difficulty, along with the handy Putt Preview that shows you the trajectory of your planned putt, but only once per shot. Features like draw, fade and loft are now easier than ever to set before taking a shot, while the ability to give the ball a little aftertouch nudge in mid-air also remains. It's still not much of a cheat, since it can save your skin by squeaking you past the edge of a bunker, but you can't shift the ball's direction by any ridiculous degree.
Also new for those using the stick system is Real Time Swing Feedback, another idea so simple it's amazing it's not been used before. The game now displays an exact representation of your swing as a yellow line across an icon of the tee ball. Obviously you're hoping to see a nice straight line bisecting the ball, but if you have a tendency to hook or slice this will show you precisely where your fingers are letting you down.
Armed with this info, you can head to the Club Tuner, the last of the major new additions for this year. This is a tinkerer's dream, a driving range where you can not only practice your shots with drivers, irons, woods and wedges, but take each individual club in your bag and tweak it to suit your playing style. It sounds - and looks - daunting but it's actually quite accessible and Hank Haney will offer suggestions, if you feel out of your depth.
After hitting a few practice shots, graded green, yellow or red depending on how straight you hit, you can enter the workshop to make adjustments. You could increase the power of a driver, for instance, but each new improvement lowers the "sweet spot" of the club. The lower this percentage, the harder it will be to hit a straight shot. So it's a trade off, boosting in one area without causing too much harm to the overall performance. You can even add bias to the clubs, to counteract any hook or slice tendencies you may have.
It's an impressive suite of new features and improvements, all of which can only benefit a game that already plays a great game of golf. The usual EA Sports depth and polish is evident throughout, with lots to discover as your drill down into the menus and up-to-date (and user-defined) sports results delivered from the internet to a front-page ESPN news ticker. It features all the major tournaments, a hefty bag of different game modes and the Tiger Challenge has received a minor structural overhaul, ditching the grid system of last year for a series of Pro Cards containing the challenges to be beaten before you can face the celeb players.
The only recurring complaints will be familiar from the last edition. Graphically, it's nothing special. Licensed golfers are recognisable enough, but their animations have an annoying glitch as they prepare for a shot, and they'll stare into the distance even when taking a 10cm putt. The courses are lush and colourful, but the background textures don't bear much scrutiny while the spectators are a freakish assortment of mannequins stuck in little movement loops.
It's also stupid that you can boost your stats by unlocking and purchasing special items from the Pro Shop (you can now buy them with Microsoft Points as well, if you're impatient). Not only does it go against the practice-reward cycle established by the dynamic skills system, but the idea that golfers can spend USD 32,000 on a magic hat that improves their drive has no place in a game as balanced and convincing as this.
And, finally, the EA GamerNet servers are apparently still made from string and bits of old skin. It's often pot-luck as to whether you can access this section of the game, which is especially annoying when you've just hit an amazing shot and want to upload it. Clips can be saved and uploaded later, but there's no excuse for these issues to persist one year after the feature was introduced. The same is true of the Photo Game Face system, which struggled to download my rugged visage, even when the thumbnails were clearly visible. Thankfully these interruptions don't impact the Xbox Live multiplayer modes, which were never less than smooth and reliable.
If you've been passing the series by, convinced that it hasn't changed, then I can only urge you to give it another try. This is yet another solid improvement over its predecessor that nudges the series back into "must buy" status, even if it sometimes feels more like the game is taking steps forward rather then leaps. But there's no sense reinventing the wheel just to say that it's new, and Tiger Woods still offers the best serious golf simulation on the market, and continues to find new ways to refine an already polished experience. Such consistent dedication to craft is well worth any golf fan's time and money.