SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Frenchman Alexander Levy continued his love affair with China's golf courses by kicking off the European Tour's Final Series with a seven-under-par 65 to lead after the first round of the BMW Masters.
Levy, who won the Tour's China Open in April, fired seven birdies in a bogey-free round to lead by one at Lake Malaran from Argentine Emiliano Grillo, Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium and another Frenchman, Romain Wattel.
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell also went bogey free, firing a five-under 67 to sit in fifth at the first event of the European Tour's lucrative final four of the season which offer more than $30 million in combined prize money.
But they were all short of the 24-year-old Levy, who showed some hot form on a cool, damp morning in China.
Starting on the 10th, Levy opened with four birdies before getting to five-under by sending a pinpoint iron at the 200 yard par three 17th to six feet to make the turn in 31.
Another shot was gained at the second before he completed his round by rolling in a 12-foot putt at his last for a birdie three and a 65.
It was the Frenchman's fifth straight sub par round in China after his four shot win at the Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen.
"For me, this golf course is pretty much the same as Shenzhen. I like this type of golf course with water and the target golf," he told reporters.
"I enjoy being in China and I'm going to try my best the last few days and try to do the same things I thought of in April. I like China, that's for sure."
Levy has been in strong form of late, claiming his last strokeplay event at the curtailed Portugal Masters earlier this month to become the first Frenchman to win at least twice in a single European Tour season.
Levy is 19th in the Tour's Race to Dubai standings but a strong showing at the $7 million event in Shanghai can help rocket him up the money list.
World number one Rory McIlroy is well clear at the top of the standings but he is skipping this week's event and the following World Golf Championship HSBC Champions tournament, also in China, next week.
Second-placed Sergio Garcia is also absent this week, opting to compete at the PGA Tour's event in Malaysia, while Henrik Stenson, third on the list, is also missing from the 78-man field.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson, fourth in the Race to Dubai, made a good start in Shanghai with a four-under 68 to sit in a group of six players, including victorious Ryder Cup-winning team mate Thomas Bjorn, who is fifth in the money race.
Li Hao-tong and Hu Mu led the local charge with the Chinese pair firing 69s to sit tied 12th alongside multiple major winner Ernie Els and Italian Francesco Molinari.
The Italian's brother Eduardo, one back at two-under, produced the shot of the day with a hole-in-one at the 212 yard fourth.
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(Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Peter Rutherford)