January 4, 2018 / 12:47 AM / 14 days ago

PREVIEW-Golf-Rising star Thomas vows to avoid distractions

Jan 3 (Reuters) - Justin Thomas is working on the adjustments needed to fulfill his role as one of golf’s elite players, while a fit-again Dustin Johnson is ready to fire on all cylinders, the leading Americans said on Wednesday.

Despite recording back-to-back wins in Hawaii to start 2017, Thomas returns to the Pacific islands with a far higher profile, no longer regarded as a promising youngster since winning his first major and being crowned the PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Unable to move around freely in anonymity since that PGA Championship triumph in August, Thomas has sought the advice of his great friend and rival Jordan Spieth on how to cope with life in the spotlight.

“I‘m going to be pulled a lot more ways than I was last year or the year prior, so I need to learn how to manage my time better and figure out what I need and don’t need to do,” he told reporters on the eve of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

“It’s just golf so I have to go out and do what I‘m doing and don’t get affected by that stuff.”

Thomas, who wants to improve his driving accuracy this year, returns to Kapalua on Maui as part of a loaded 34-man field restricted to winners on the 2017 PGA Tour.

The 24-year-old can expect to face a stern test of his credentials from a bunch of hungry rivals, including world number one Johnson, who is champing at the bit after what turned out to be a futile 2017 major campaign.

“I’d like to contend a bit better in the majors this year. Last year, I obviously got a little derailed before Augusta,” he said, referring to the U.S. Masters, which he missed after falling down stairs and bruising his back on tournament eve.

Johnson did not get back into full stride until after the four majors were completed but he won a tour playoff event in late August and seems to have put the injury behind him.

“The swing’s finally getting back to where it was and I‘m starting to hit the ball with the right shape, and hitting a lot more consistent shots,” he said.

This week’s field includes seven of the top eight in the world rankings -- Johnson, Spieth, Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka.

Fowler enters as a recent winner after his runaway triumph at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last month, a performance he hopes will be a springboard for more victories, rather than the near-misses he has become renowned for.

He also won the Honda Classic last year, while adding three runner-up finishes and a couple of thirds.

“I would like to and should have won more last year,” he acknowledged, adding that it was time to just get the job done. (Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O‘Brien)

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