Venture online and there are still an impressive 10 different gameplay modes to choose from, though it's unfortunate that none of the minigames are available. You can play against friends, get paired up with random opponents for ranked matches, and--as in last year's game--compete in daily, weekly, and play-the-pros tournaments that let you play alone and then upload your scores to leaderboards. When playing in tournaments, you can see other players' names and scores on the leaderboards next to every hole, and a news ticker lets you know when other players have done something significant, which is a nice touch. New for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 is online team play, which requires a minimum of four players and supports a maximum of 24. You choose to represent either the East or West, and then when enough players have joined the session, everybody gets paired up with an opponent and starts at the same time. You get to watch your opponent's shots, and the shots from any other players who are on the same hole as you are show up as lines tracing their balls. Online team play is an interesting addition to the game, but getting a large number of players together at the same time can be extremely difficult--perhaps because it often means that the first players who show up have to wait around for more to show up. Even if you forgo the numerous options that, for example, let you choose to play only in certain weather conditions or with certain green speeds, you're more likely to end up in a four-player team game than a 24-player one.
Not all of the included golfers are a good fit for the PGA.
Whether you're playing solo or with up to three friends on the same console, the new Ryder Cup mode is undoubtedly one of the more compelling ways to play when you're not using and leveling up your custom golfer in Career mode. Although the default course to play on is Celtic Manor's Twenty Ten Course--designed specifically for this year's event--you can take the Ryder Cup to any course that you like, and before you start playing you can even tweak your chosen team's roster. Because there are barely enough real golfers in the game to fill both rosters, female players like Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen make the cut by default, and if you want to swap them or any of the other players out, there are very few alternatives to choose from unless you dip into the opposing team. That it's possible to select European players for the US team and vice versa is strange to say the least, especially since Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 has no problem letting a player represent both teams simultaneously. If you mess with the default rosters too much, you might find that the game does have a problem remembering who is playing for which country and when, though, as evidenced by an American player wearing European colors while shooting for both teams, for example.
Look beyond the roster weirdness, and you find that the Ryder Cup mode's mixture of foursomes and fourballs is made much greater than the sum of its parts by the fact that when multiple matches are being played simultaneously, you have the option to play as a different team member every time you move to a new hole. Because the tournament employs a match play system, it doesn't matter how many shots you win a hole by, just that you win. So, with that in mind, if you manage to take a two- or three-hole lead as one golfer, it might make sense for you to lend your expertise to another. After every hole, you're presented with a scoreboard that shows where every player is on the course and whether they're winning, losing, or tied. Winning a round by one hole is worth as much to the team as winning a round by several holes, so playing through the whole tournament is an interesting balancing act.
Regardless of which of the numerous modes and gameplay options you're in, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11's visuals don't disappoint. All of the pro players are instantly recognizable, and other than some occasionally odd movements while walking, they're animated very well. Custom players can look every bit as good provided you don't go crazy with the editing tools, and depending on your taste in golf gear, you can make them look even better when you start spending your experience points (or real currency, if you prefer) in the pro shop. Courses are even more impressive, with lighting changes for different times of day, good-looking weather effects, and grass that--where it's long enough--moves in the wind along with the trees and even your golfer's clothing. The camera doesn't always do a good job of showing you what's going on when it tries to be clever on the putting green, but for the most part it does its job so well that you might wish the same thing were possible during TV coverage of the real thing. Your ears aren't in for the same treat that your eyes are, but last year's appalling commentary has at least been improved enough that it doesn't demand to be turned off.
Swaying trees serve as a reminder that the wind in this year's game can change at any time.
That Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 improves on its predecessor is impressive. That it improves on it enough to be recommended without hesitation even if you own last year's game is remarkable. Even if you have little interest in the new Ryder Cup and online team modes, and don't anticipate playing with the new true-aim system, the introduction of focus along with a host of other less significant improvements out on the course still make this the golf game to own.