By Mark Lamport-Stokes
KOHLER, Wisconsin (Reuters) - 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 number one 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 twenty-somethings, proof positive that the 'Big Five' era of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen is over.
"The game now is certainly very healthy, exciting and strong," American Paul Azinger, who won the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness and has since been become an acclaimed golf analyst on television, told Reuters.
"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.
"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.
"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 favorite 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 on Sunday with a major record low of 20-under 268.
YOUNG GUN CHALLENGE
His emotion-charged win lifted him to a career-high third in the world rankings and he looks forward to challenging players such as Spieth and McIlroy on a regular basis in golf's blue riband events.
"I know exactly what I have done to get myself in a position where I'm holding the (PGA Championship) trophy right now," said Day.
"As long as I keep working on those things and get the process right, I know that there's going to be plenty of these to hold as long as I really am feeling motivated and I want it more than anyone else.
"As long as I am healthy, I feel like I'm going to be there a long time. I still want to accomplish that number one goal of mine, which is to be the best player in the world."
Day is excited about facing multiple rivals.
"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 number one 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 is 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."
(Editing by Andrew Both)