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Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online is free and in full swing

In conjunction with this year's Masters tournament--and Tiger Woods' return to golf--EA Sports has launched a free Web version of its popular golf franchise.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online has surprisingly good graphics for a browser-based game.
EA Sports

While everybody these days seems to have some sort of diverging opinion on Tiger Woods, the man, it's pretty hard not to really like Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, the video game. In case you haven't heard already, the best thing about it is that it's free--or at least a good portion of it is--as EA Sports has brought the freemium model to its popular golf franchise.

To get started playing all you need to do is go to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online Web site, sign up for an account, and you'll be good to go after a quick setup process (the browser-based game works on both Macs and Windows machines). At least initially, you can only do a very limited amount of customization to your avatar (one of the game's shortcomings right now), but once you get out on the course, the graphics are pretty decent and the game plays smoothly--and quickly. You can move from hole to hole in a few minutes and play a round in around half an hour (at least at the beginner levels). A running IM feed on the left side of the screen allows you to interact with other players, talk trash, or just give a running commentary of how well--or badly--you're playing.

You can either choose do a career mode where you play by yourself or challenge other players (you can meet up with friends online and organize your own tournaments). As for what you get by upgrading your membership to premium level ($9.99 a month or $59.99 for the year), you can play any course available, not just the two "open" courses EA has designated as free courses. At the moment, these include St. Andrews and Sheshan, but EA says it will soon start rotating the "open" courses. Other than access to the premium courses, free players can do everything else.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online also employees a points-based transaction system that allows players to purchase packages of points at $9.99, $19.99 and $39.99 that can be used on in-game transactions, such as rounds of golf and Pro Shop items that will improve your play. If you purchase the annual membership, you receive unlimited rounds on all available courses and you get a package of points that can be spent on Pro Shop items. Like all freemium games, the idea is to get you hooked on the game and have you spend some extra dough to get more out of it or gain a performance advantage.

For now, the free version has no ads, but it's highly likely that as the audience grows we'll start to see some. Reps for EA said that improvements were on the way. For instance, at launch character customization is just skin tone and clothing (from the Pro Shop), but that more customization options would be rolled out in the near future.

"The beauty of this product is the flexibility to make changes as we go based on community feedback," a spokesperson for the game told us. "We aren't tied to an annual iteration timeline."

Anyway, we encourage you to give it a whirl (it's free, after all). As we said, the beginner levels are very forgiving, so you'll be shooting well under par right off the bat. One warning: the gaming is pretty addictive, so be careful about playing at work unless you're playing against your boss.

Now if EA would just do this for Madden, we wouldn't have to upgrade and be slightly disappointed each year.

Anybody else played Tiger Woods Online yet? If so, let us know what you think of it, and how it can be improved.