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Par 5: Match Play From Spain to N.J.

Setting the week’s agenda with five questions for tournament golf at large . . .

Is Luke Donald the man to beat at the Volvo World Match Play?

After winning the WGC-Match Play Championship in February, Donald should bring a lot of confidence to this week’s Volvo World Match Play Championship at the Finca Cortesin Golf Club in Spain.

The event, by the way, feels like a celebration of what’s right with European golf.

Five of the top six players in the world rankings are scheduled to play in the European Tour event. They’re all Europeans.

No. 1 Lee Westwood is in the 24-player field along with No. 2 Donald, No. 3 Martin Kaymer, No. 5 Graeme McDowell and No. 6 Rory McIlroy.

The unique format features eight groups of three players. The top two players from each group will advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals from a round-robin format over Thursday and Friday. Winners of group matches earn two points for a victory, one for a halved match. Head-to-head records will be used to break ties in the group matches. If there’s still a tie, a playoff will decide who advances.

The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Sunday.

Despite his stellar play winning at Accenture, Donald is not the man to beat this week, according to Ladbrokes. Westwood is the betting favorite at 6-to-1 odds. Donald is next at 7-to-1 with Kaymer at 8-to-1. Donald is in a group with England’s Ross Fisher and American Ryan Moore.

Will the memory of The Players Championship motivate or haunt Toms?

David Toms jumps right back into competition at this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial looking like a man determined to give himself another chance to make a clutch putt.

Toms, 44, has a history of riding hot streaks, and he looks like he’s heating up again.

He loves Colonial, where he has done just about everything but win. He’s finished T-2, T-3 and T-4 there. In the aftermath of Sunday’s loss at The Players, Toms radiated with the aura of a man on the rise, not a man crushed by the disappointment of a blown chance.

“I think I’m going to win again soon,” Toms said. “Playing great [at The Players] gives me that confidence.”

Colonial seems like the perfect place for Toms to give himself another chance to win his 13th PGA Tour title. His run at The Players shouldn’t have surprised. He is second on the PGA Tour this season in driving accuracy, second in greens in regulation and second in total putting despite his short miss at the end of The Players. Those aren’t the stats of a guy who just caught lightning in a bottle. He’s in strong form.

Who is Toms’ most formidable competition at Hogan’s Alley?

Zach Johnson will be looking to become the first player to repeat as champ at Colonial since Ben Hogan won in 1952 and ’53.

Ten players have won multiple titles at Colonial since the tournament launched in 1946. Hogan, Julius Boros, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Corey Pavin, Nick Price, Bruce Lietzke, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry have all won it more than once, but Hogan’s the only player to win it back-to-back, and he did it twice. He also won it in 1946 and ’47, the first two years of the event.

So look for players who have won here before to get themselves in the mix. Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Sergio Garcia could be factors as former champs.

Who are the players to beat at the Sybase Match Play Championship?

The LPGA returns to action with 64 of its top players competing at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J., Thursday through Sunday.

The top 32 seeds will be based on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings with each of those seeds choosing their opponent in a blind draw on Tuesday.

With so few events this season, it’s difficult to know who’s arriving in the best form, but here’s how this reporter handicaps the favorites:

  • 3/1 Brittany Lincicome – Swept through the field winning at Hamilton Farm in ’06.
  • 5/1 Yani Tseng – World No. 1 highly motivated after Kraft loss and missed cut in last LPGA start.
  • 6/1 Jiyai Shin – Will wear out opponents hitting fairways and greens.
  • 8/1 Angela Stanford – Lost in finals in this event last year.
  • 10/1 Stacy Lewis – Ball striking, confidence make Kraft champ tough to beat.
  • 10/1 Karrie Webb – Two victories on the board already this season.
  • 12/1 Na Yeon Choi – Finished T-3, T-5 and sixth so far this year.
  • 12/1 Michelle Wie – Record shows she steps up in match play.
  • 15/1 Sun Young Yoo – Brings some serious mojo as defending champ.
  • 15/1 Cristie Kerr – Coming through a sluggish run, but if her putter gets hot ...
  • 18/1 Paula Creamer – Solheim Cup practice session this week may light a fire.
  • 18/1 Morgan Pressel – Match play brings out the best in ‘05 U.S. Women’s Amateur champ.
  • 20/1 Suzann Pettersen – Putter’s temperature determines how far she advances.

Will Alexis Thompson bounce back strong in Europe?

Alexis Thompson will make her first start since she lost a share of the 54-hole lead in a final-round stumble at the Avnet LPGA Classic three weeks ago.

The 16-year-old American will tee it up at the UniCredit Ladies German Open Thursday looking to become the youngest winner of a Ladies European Tour event. Amy Yang holds the mark having won the ANZ Ladies Masters when she was 16 years and 192 days old. Thompson would be 16 years and 101 days old on Sunday.

Thompson made a strong run at winning in Europe last year before finishing tied for second at the Evian Masters.

The Ladies German Open field includes Sandra Gal, who will be popular returning to her homeland after winning the Kia Classic earlier this year. Gal’s the highest ranked player in the field at No. 34 in the world. Laura Davies is there to defend her title.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC