KOHLER (Wisconsin) • Jason Day's breakthrough victory at the PGA Championship served notice that a changing of the guard is now complete, with an exciting posse of young guns set to dominate the Majors for the next decade.
Newly crowned world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are already established as the game's leading duo but Australian Day, 27, American Rickie Fowler, 26, and rising Japanese talent Hideki Matsuyama, 23, are in hot pursuit.
Six of the last seven Major championships have been won by 20-somethings, proof positive that the "Big Five" era comprising Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen is over.
"The game now is certainly very healthy, exciting and strong," said American Paul Azinger, who won the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness and has since become an acclaimed golf analyst on television. "We are beginning to blend into a post-Tiger era.
"This year in all four Majors, it seems like the same cast of three or four characters are right at the top.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
For young guys like myself, Jordan, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama, we're starting to play better golf and starting to challenge.
JASON DAY, on the emergence of young champions who have replaced the Big Five
"Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth have all been in contention, and now Rory McIlroy is back after his injury absence (a ruptured ligament in his left ankle)."
Northern Irishman McIlroy, now aged 26, won the last two Majors of 2014 and the remarkable Spieth, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last month, clinched the first two Majors this year before tying for fourth at the British Open and finishing second behind Day at the PGA Championship on Sunday.
Spieth is the second-youngest player to reach No. 1 - after Woods at 21 in 1997. His performance in Major championships was historic - his combined 54 under par over the four tournaments is a record.
"Jordan Spieth continues to amaze," said Azinger. "I don't know if anybody would have even thought we would ever see anybody like him with that maturity at such a young age.
"He's my favourite golfer to watch and I also love watching Jason Day. He is a mega talent, and he certainly proved that this week at Whistling Straits."
Day, after several close calls at the Majors over the past five years, finally crossed the finish line triumphantly last Sunday with a Major record low of 20-under 268.
"Golf is in a very healthy stage now," he said. "Three to five years ago, it was kind of struggling a little bit with the identity of who was really going to be that No. 1 player in the world, who was going to be the next best thing.
"Rory came out and was really dominating, but there was no one really kind of challenging him for that role. For young guys like myself, Jordan, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama, we're starting to play better golf and starting to challenge.
"That's what I'm looking forward to in the future... the sheer competition of being able to fight against these guys each week. It's going to be a lot of fun over the next five to 10 years."
And for their part, the old guard are not complaining at being sidelined. Said Mickelson, 45, who is ready to hand over the baton:
"The game's in good hands. We've got a good quality group of guys that are great players but also great people."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE