By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Martin Kaymer's playoff victory in the U.S. PGA Championship not only capped a riveting week of high drama at Whistling Straits but also served notice at what is likely to unfold in the majors over the next decade.
The 25-year-old German became the sixth first-time winner in the last seven majors and the third in his twenties, a pattern which is almost certain to continue in an exciting new era of emerging young guns.
With the dominance of Tiger Woods considerably diminished since the American's private life unraveled at the end of last year, players such as Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen have burst into the limelight.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, richly talented and aged only 21, has already recorded three top-three finishes in the majors and has been widely tipped as a future world number one by his peers.
South African Oosthuizen, at 27, stunned the golfing world with a seemingly nerveless display at St. Andrews to clinch last month's British Open by a staggering seven strokes.
It was one of the most commanding major victories of all time and yet it has probably not received due recognition -- certainly nothing like the reaction had a big-name player such as Woods or Phil Mickelson pulled off a similar feat.
Kaymer, who had posted top-eight finishes in his previous two majors, finally made his breakthrough at the game's highest level with his gripping playoff win in Kohler, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
Four shots off the pace going into the final round at Whistling Straits, the German coolly shrugged off winds gusting up to 40 kph on a layout demanding precision off the tee and plenty of patience to take the outright lead before the turn.
Although he made his only error in regulation with a bogey at the 15th, he sank a clutch par putt from 15 feet at the last to get into a playoff with American Bubba Watson which he won after three extra holes.
He also stayed calm amid all the confusion shortly before the playoff when American Dustin Johnson, who had finished level with Kaymer and Watson, was penalized two strokes for grounding his ball in a bunker on the 18th hole.
"Majors are the biggest tournaments you can win in your career, I cannot win anything bigger," the Dusseldorf native said. "(This) gives me huge confidence for any other tournament I will play.
"This was the toughest field all year," Kaymer said of a tournament that featured 97 of the world's top 100 players. "I hope it's one of many majors that I will win in my career."
Kaymer, who has climbed to a career-high five in the rankings, McIlroy and Oosthuizen are by no means the only twenty-somethings likely to flourish in the majors over the next decade.
Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, Americans Johnson, Anthony Kim, Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan, Italy's Edoardo Molinari, South African Charl Schwartzel and Australian Jason Day have all signaled their rich promise with impressive wins around the world.
Kaymer, McIlroy, Oosthuizen, Mahan, Kim and O'Hair are already ranked in the top 20 and can be expected to grab much more of the spotlight in the years to come from the 'older guard' of Woods, Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
"I think it's great for the game of golf ... how many young players are playing well," Kaymer said.
"I think we will have a lot of young major winners in the next five, six years."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)