It certainly doesn’t seem like a year ago I was reviewing the last Tiger Woods release, or a year before that for the previous one. Who would have thought 12 months ago that the greatest golfer on the planet would be in the position he is in today.

As some sponsors have run for the hills, EA Sports have stuck with Eldrick Tont Woods and released Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11.

However this year Tiger shares the cover of his own game with Rory McIlroy. There’s one obvious reason for this – and that is because the game now includes The Ryder Cup. The fact that McIlroy is the European Team captain and the presence of the Stars & Stripes and the European flag (yes, there’s a European flag) behind the golfers is a dead giveaway.

But the cynic in me thinks there is perhaps more to it than what meets the eye. Is the emergence of a new face, combined with Tiger’s fall from grace and subsequent average performances a sign that a changing of the guard is in the wings? Or does it hint at future releases being more generic for the same reasons? Will next year see EA Sports PGA Tour 12 with a big name endorsement dropped altogether? Time will tell.

As previously mentioned PGA Tour 11 features The Ryder Cup competition. If you’re shrugging your shoulders at this point then The Ryder Cup is a bi-annual contest between two teams of 12 golfers from USA and Europe. It’s kind of a big deal. Interestingly enough, Tiger Woods might be struggling to make the criteria for the US Team this year. The inclusion of The Ryder Cup is one of two major changes to PGA Tour 11 and a long overdue inclusion it is. It’s not without its frustrations though.

Anyone who’s watched The Ryder Cup before knows that it draws huge, often raucous, patriotic crowds that sometimes verge on Happy Gilmore behaviour. It’s golf’s version of tennis’s Davis Cup. But PGA Tour 11 fails to recreate the atmosphere of The Ryder Cup with the crowds being exactly the same as they are in any other mode and the commentators (Kelly Tillman and Scott Van Pelt return again) are as blasé about sinking a 30ft putt on the 18th to win the Cup as they are about successfully laying up an 8 iron on the 2nd fairway. It’s a shame that the Ryder Cup mode couldn’t have its own set of sound bites.

The other major change is the way you view your shot. EA calls it True-Aim and it’s an attempt to bring the game a step closer to the skill level required to play the real thing. True-Aim removes the circle that used to appear where your ball was going to land and forces you into an over-the-shoulder viewpoint much the same as you would in real golf. When you hit the ball you no longer get the cool effect of the camera chasing the flight of the ball and watching where it finishes up. Instead the camera stays with the player and you are left to rely on the reaction of the crowd and commentators to gauge how your shot went.

Being a golfer from way back, I can appreciate the appeal of this feature for golfing purists. It’s a better reflection of your skill level rather than knocking an approach 10ft from the hole and taking a few mulligans until you’re 2ft away. But I would have preferred the option to choose between the classic Tiger Woods gameplay or the new method. EA Perhaps should have introduced it into the franchise over the course of a couple of years instead of saying “Hey, we know you love doing it that way, but now you’re going to do it this way”.

True-Aim works for the most part with drives, long irons and medium approach shots once you get the hang of it, but it can be a frustrating affair on the shots requiring finesse like little chip & runs around the green. The carry distance doesn’t always give you a true indication of how far your ball is going to run. It might land and trickle on to the hole, or it might run off the other side of the green. Usually you can guess from the elevation of the trajectory guide but an apparent glitch occasionally decides to do something completely random.

You still have some of the classic features at your disposal, but you are forced to use them sparingly. This new ‘Focus’ mechanic is displayed in the bottom left of your screen and each time you choose to spin the ball in the air, over-power your shot or use putt preview, the Focus gauge depletes (and doesn’t replenish). Once it’s gone, you’re all alone and there’s a whole lot of uncertainty out on the course, just like the real thing. Again, it would have been nice to have had the choice.

Taking the game online presents much the same experience as previous years with the obvious exception of The Ryder Cup – which is pretty good fun if you have the time to join either the US or European team and compete from start to finish.

The only other change this year worth mentioning is that earning cash has been replaced by XP which can be distributed amongst your golfer’s attributes as you see fit. A nice touch is if your golfer is driving the ball 300 metres every time yet often missing tap-in putts then you can redistribute your XP to compensate at any time.

As usual, the game looks amazing but you’d have to be a real trainspotter to notice the differences from last year. The grass has been tweaked to look more realistic and the players’ clothes actually flutter in the wind (although not always in the direction of the wind!)

Essentially, if you’re relatively new to golfing simulations then I’d highly recommend starting with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 or even 09. If you’re a seasoned player who wants to cast off the training wheels and take that step up in realism then Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is the game you’ve been waiting for. Depending on where your skill lies, this year’s release is either the best yet, or a step backwards for the series.