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EA Sports' golf video game returns as Rory McIlroy PGA Tour (update)

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

EA Sports' golf franchise returns this June as Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, handing the franchise's mantle to the reigning No. 1-ranked golfer after a 16-year run with Tiger Woods, publisher Electronic Arts announced today.

The game will launch on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. EA Sports announced few other details about the game — no specific release date, number of courses or other real-life golfers licensed to appear in the game. A news release touted the usefulness of the Frostbite engine, which drives titles such as the Battlefield series, to rendering the scenic environment of a golf course on new-generation consoles for the first time.

Frostbite's presence also means there will be no loading times between holes, a major inconvenience of the series on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. That's because the entire course can now be rendered all at once, instead of hole-by-hole.

The hole-by-hole limitations of past games also meant tighter restrictions on out-of-bounds shots than at their courses in real life. On the Xbox 360 and PS3, shanking a drive into a theoretically playable area outside of what the game had rendered would still be treated as an out-of-bounds shot (with the one-stroke penalty). Now you'll be allowed to make a recovery shot, at least.

The old Tiger Woods PGA Tour series spanned 1998-2013. In 2013, EA Sports parted ways with the 39-year-old star and put the series on a one-year hiatus. Significantly, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is not numbered, which de-commits it to publishing annually.

McIlroy, 25, won both the British Open and the PGA Championship in 2014 (with wins at the U.S. Open in 2011 and the PGA in 2012).

This year's game was announced as EA Sports PGA Tour back at E3 2014, in a stage presentation that showed outlandish fantasy courses in addition to true-to-life gameplay.

No mention was made of courses that will be present in Rory McIlroy, though EA Sports did include two screenshots of TPC Sawgrass, which has long been in the game's lineup. A news release also broadly promised "the most realistic representations of (gamers') favorite locales."

Notably, that means no mention yet of Augusta National, whose Masters Tournament tees off April 9. Augusta National's inclusion starting in 2011 re-energized the series and focused its appeal more to the world's most famous golf courses and less on its famous golfers. The last edition included 44 courses, 20 in the main edition and the others available as downloadable content.

The June release window also returns the series to a more familiar release date; it had launched in March in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to capture interest in The Masters. Previous editions had launched in late spring or early summer.

Update: It appears that Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo, of The Golf Channel, will replace Jim Nantz and David Feherty as the series' commentary team. Augusta National more or less required that Nantz, the longtime voice of The Masters, be made the series' announcer (replacing Scott Van Pelt of ESPN) when it signed on in 2011.

With Nantz gone from the series, and the title releasing more than a month after The Masters, it now raises an uncomfortable question whether North America's most famous golf course will return to the game.

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