MARTIN Kaymer, the world No 1, has welcomed the "challenge" of the new generation of European Tour players and is looking forward to going head-to-head with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero over the next ten to 15 years.
Speaking yesterday at Wentworth, where he will be one of four major champions in the field for the BMW PGA Championship next month, the 26-year-old German was full of praise for Manassero after the Italian, who turned 18 on Tuesday, won his second European Tour title in Malaysia last weekend.
"The way he won on Sunday was very impressive for a 17-year-old," said Kaymer, who watched the final few holes on television after finishing 11th in the event. "Even when he holed for an eagle at the tenth, he didn't freak out and was very calm - that is unusual at 17.
"You can see the potential, but, when you are younger, it is easy to become satisfied and not practice as much and I hope he has good people around him who will take care of him."
Kaymer, the USPGA champion and winner of nine European Tour titles, smiled when he was asked if he was worried about the prospect of having to keep Manassero and McIlroy, as well as the likes of Ryo Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, at bay over the next few years.
"I'm not scared," he added. "That's the competition and the challenge I am looking for. It is nice to have a new generation in Matteo and Rory.
"It used to be you felt you had to go to the US PGA Tour, but that is not the case any more. The Ryder Cup is the best example. We could have fielded two teams last year, such is the strength of our circuit.
"The European Tour has an exciting future and I am looking forward to playing against these guys over the next ten-15 years."
Kaymer, who turned professional at 21 and was 23 before he landed his first title, is confident McIlroy will bounce back from his disappointment in the Masters, where the Ulsterman led by four shots heading into the last round before suffering a back-nine collapse.
"I think his performance last week was fantastic. He had the chance to win the golf tournament in Malaysia, but I think people shouldn't look too much into it. He is only 21 years old. That is what people should never forget," he observed.
"He has achieved a lot already. He is now one of the best players in the world and he will win plenty of tournaments and put himself into contention for a lot of majors and I am sure he will win majors as well. I think you guys shouldn't be too cruel to him. He is a nice guy and he has a lot of potential, but he is still young.
"When I was 21, I was not even on Tour. I cannot even compare myself to Matteo - to win two European Tour events at the age of 17 is unbelievable. I think people forget as well that this is not normal. When I was 17, I was still in school and they are winning tournaments. It is a different lifestyle and it takes some time to get used to.
"I got lucky when I won my first major - it was my first chance and I did it straight away. You can't say there's a certain way to win a major. Lee Westwood is still waiting after being in contention a few times and it was the same with Colin Montgomerie."The former Scottish Open champion missed the cut once again in the Masters, but has quickly figured out where he went wrong at Augusta, a place that has, so far, proved an unhappy hunting ground for him.
"On the first day I tried to play the course in a perfect way, hitting all the draws and the low and high shots you need there," he said. "That's not the way I play and on the second day I went out and did it my way.
"That made me learn that, no matter whether I am playing at Augusta or Dusseldorf, I need to play a course my way instead of trying to play it perfectly, which didn't happen in the first round of the Masters. So I definitely learned something mentally there this year."
Kaymer is being joined in the Wentworth field on 26-29 May by US Open title holder Graeme McDowell, Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and newly-crowned Masters champion Charl Schwartzel - the first time all four current major winners have been in the field. "It is one of my goals to win at Wentworth, the home of the European Tour," admitted Kaymer, who will be aiming to complete a notable double after winning the BMW International Open in Munich three years ago.
So, too, was taking over as the world No 1, toppling Lee Westwood in January after the Englishman had ended Tiger Woods's long reign as the best player on the planet.
"It is a good feeling, for sure," replied Kaymer when asked about his status. "It was a little bit weird at first, but I got used to it after a couple of weeks. When I turned professional I never thought I could be No 1, especially with Tiger Woods playing as he had been since 1997, so it is a proud feeling for me.
Kaymer likened the on-form Martin Laird to Luke Donald when asked if he felt the US-based Scot could be an asset to European captain Jose Maria Olazabal in next year's Ryder Cup at Medinah.
"I watched him when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He is very consistent and is also a pretty fantastic putter. It is difficult to be as consistent as Martin has been recently on the PGA Tour and he could be one of the sort of players you need for the Ryder Cup."