CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In case you haven't been following the world of professional golf (or ESPN) lately, you may have missed Tiger Woods' ascent to the top of the world rankings. Considering he had slipped to as low as 58th in the world and went more than two years without a PGA Tour win following the much-publicized end of his marriage, Woods' return to No. 1 is actually quite remarkable.
While the virtual Tiger Woods never suffered the same dramatic collapse in performance -- EA Sports' "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" franchise has long been one of the publisher's most consistent efforts -- the success achieved by "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14" is equally remarkable in its own right. "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14" blends together numerous gameplay enhancements, new features and an undeniable fun factor, easily placing it atop the list of the series' best versions.
"Tiger 14" raises the bar for the franchise in almost every way imaginable.
The gameplay is more refined thanks to a new physics engine that rewards hitting your shots with the right amount of draw or fade and a new simulation difficulty level that should test even the most hardcore "Tiger" fan; the career mode has been made more realistic with the addition of all four major tournaments, the Web.com Tour, Q-school and more believable AI scoring; the new Legends of the Majors mode lets you relieve some of golf's greatest moments and battle all-time greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead; and online play has been expanded with larger Country Clubs (100 members instead of 25) and 24-player connected tournaments.
But more than anything, "Tiger 14" puts the fun back in a series that had become rather mundane in recent years.
As someone who has been playing the "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" franchise since its inception, I found last year's effort to be a step backward for the series. It wasn't bad, per se, but I didn't find myself compelled to play the game on a daily basis, as I usually am each year when the latest edition arrives.
This year, "Tiger 14" has taken up a permanent residence in my Xbox 360 and isn't likely to be moved for quite some time.
"Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14" isn't perfect -- I've seen an unusually high number of annoying bugs and glitches, ranging from distorted commentary to graphic overlays that remain on screen for multiple shots or even holes -- this is still the most fun I've ever had playing a "Tiger Woods" game. And at the end of the day -- or round -- that's all that matters.