By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Justin Thomas returns to Hawaii for the Sony Open this week with a new, but familiar, caddie on his bag as he looks to defend a title he won in spectacular style last year.
With his regular caddie unavailable due to injury, the world number four has turned to five-times major champion Phil Mickelson's former mentor, Jim 'Bones' Mackay, to help him around the course at the Waialae Country Club.
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Thomas may not need that much guidance, though, after having tamed the course a year ago by opening with a magical 59 before going on to set the tour's all-time scoring record in a 72-hole event at 253.
Thomas, who is grouped with Jason Dufner and Kevin Kisner for the opening two rounds, is coming off a share of 22nd place last week at Kapalua, where a year ago he earned the second of three victories in his first five starts to the season.
He ended the year just as strongly, capturing his first major with a triumph at the PGA Championship and the FedExCup to capture Player of the Year honors.
Thomas will have his hands full this week with a field that includes world number two Jordan Spieth and Australian Marc Leishman, who is fresh off a tie for seventh at Kapalua where he led after 36 holes.
British Open champion Spieth is riding a string of seven consecutive top-10 finishes and has been installed as the favorite a week after a ninth place finish at Kapalua.
The 24-year-old Texan, who needs a PGA Championship to complete the career grand slam, is hungry for more major hardware but insists he wants to earn a 12th career PGA Tour title before the year's four blue riband events are contested.
"My goal is very similar to the last couple of years, which is to focus on the major championships and try and be in contention to win on the weekend in at least a couple of those,” Spieth told a news conference this week from Waialae.
"This time of the season, these next four or five events that I play, I'm not really thinking about the Masters. But once we get into March that's when the real preparations start.
"There’s goals within each section of the season and in this section it's to try and win a tournament out of these next four or five events.
"Then as we go into the Masters I set a bar for March, April, May and then you get into each major."
Spieth will tee off alongside fellow Americans Xander Schauffele and Daniel Berger.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Nick Mulvenney)