SHANGHAI (AP) — France's Alexander Levy had five straight birdies in the middle of his round and finished with a 7-under 65 to take the lead in the BMW Masters on Thursday.
Levy began the birdie run on the par-4 ninth on Lake Malaren's Masters Course. He won the Volvo China Open in Shenzhen in April for his first European Tour title and took the rain-shortened Portugal Masters this month, becoming the first Frenchman to win two events in a single season on the European Tour.
"My golf game is very good as I was bogey-free in missing only one fairway and I'm still aggressive on the golf course and I like to play this golf, so I need to be thinking this way for the rest of the week," Levy said. "I just like playing in China and, for me, this golf course is pretty much the same as in Shenzhen where there is a lot of water and you play target golf."
Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts was a stroke back along with Argentina's Emiliano Grillo and France's Romain Wattel. Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell topped the six European Ryder Cup players in the field with a bogey-free 67 that contained three straight birdies from the 11th.
The tournament opens the four-event Final Series. The World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions is next week, also in Shanghai, followed by the Turkish Airlines Open and World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Wattel played his last 15 holes with a crack in his driver and did not know the rules allowed him to replace the damaged club.
"Given the length of this course, and also with the rain falling, you really need the driver so I was lucky not to have any real trouble using the club," Wattel said.
Wattel indicated he will replace the driver and use one offered to him by fellow Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, who was first reserve for the event but did not tee up.
Colsaerts included in his bag an old 2 iron that he used to capture the 2011 Volvo China Open and the 2012 World Match Play Championship in Spain. The 2012 Ryder Cup player is back playing after taking a week off at Hua Hin in Thailand, where he said he underwent a "cleansing" ceremony undertaken by local Buddhist monks.
Six players, including Ryder Cup players Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn and recent Alfred Dunhill Links champion Oliver Wilson, shared sixth place on 4 under.
Justin Rose, one of Europe's stars at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, recovered from a triple-bogey 8 on the fourth hole of his round, when he found water twice – first with a 3 iron and then further up the fairway with a 5 iron. He finished on level-par 72.
"I can't remember the last time I shot an 8 as I am not a big numbers guy," Rose said.
"Really," he added, "I was just one swing away from shooting 4 under par."
Italy's Edoardo Molinari aced the par-3 13th – his fourth hole – with a 4 iron from 208 yards. The organizers are offering a BMW i8 sports sedan for a hole-in-one on the 17th hole, but Molinari had to settle for a miniature model along with a bottle of champagne.
"I now have a small car and maybe I can win the big one," he said.