Graeme McDowell is two off Alexander Levy's lead at the BMW Masters in Shanghai.
McDowell, who won the French Open at Le Golf National earlier this season, shook off jet-lag to card a 67 in the first event of the Tour’s Final Series.
"I got here Tuesday morning and haven't really been feeling my best the last couple of days," said McDowell, who was knocked out in the group stage in the defence of his Volvo World Match Play Championship a fortnight ago.
“It’s the first sort of long trip of the year for me and the body took a little bit of time to catch up. Thankfully I felt much, much better this morning and the energy level has felt good.
“The golf course is fairly soft due to the rain. It’s playing very long (7,600 yards), but the greens are very receptive and you can attack a few pins.
“I’ve had a lot of yardage in my hand most of the day out there. We counted up, I think I had seven iron shots from outside of 200 yards on this golf course. Certainly for a guy like me who doesn’t hit it maybe as far as some of the other guys, I have to be precise with my iron play and putt well, and I putted well today. That was one of the keys.”
France's Levy made the ideal start to his bid for a third Tour title of the season — and second in China. Levy, who won the Volvo China Open in April and the rain-shortened Portugal Masters three weeks ago, carded a flawless opening 65 at a damp Lake Malaren to finish seven under par, one shot ahead of compatriot Romain Wattel, Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo.
Starting from the 10th, Levy birdied his first four holes and picked up another shot at the par-three 17th to reach the turn in 31, before recording further birdies at the second and ninth.
“I think this country likes me,” joked the 24-year-old. “For me, this golf course is pretty much the same as the one where I won in Shenzhen. I like this type of golf course with water and the target golf. I enjoy being in China and I’m going to try my best the next few days to do the same things I did in April.”
Levy is a close friend of both Wattel — whose flawless 66 was achieved despite cracking the face of his driver during the round — and Ryder Cup star Victor Dubuisson, who returned a two-under-par 70 and is helping inspire the new generation of French players.
“No French player has won a major or something like that, but I think we have a good mix between the older generation and young generation,” Levy added.
“Victor played the Ryder Cup this year and I think it showed all the French players it’s possible to play a big event like that and be in position to be in the Ryder Cup in France in 2018.
“For my part I’m thinking only about that, to be in France in 2018 at Le Golf National, it’s an amazing place. I think we will have, I hope, two or three players on the Ryder Cup in 2018.
“We have a good generation. Every year some French players win and new players come on the European Tour.”
McDowell's fellow Irish men Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey are two under, while Ryder Cup team captain Paul McGinley is one under.
Ryder Cup team-mates Thomas Bjorn and Jamie Donaldson were among a six-strong group on four under par which also featured England's Oliver Wilson, who won his first European Tour event — the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship — on his 228th appearance at the start of October.
Wilson started on the back nine and covered it in 32 before picking up another shot on the third, the 34-year-old dropping his only shot of the day on the ninth when his approach plugged in a greenside bunker.
Justin Rose signed for a level-par 72 after recovering from being four over par after his first four holes, the world number six having run up a triple-bogey eight on the par-five 13th.
But Ian Poulter struggled to a two-over-par 74 which contained five bogeys and three birdies and left the world number 43 joint 62nd in the 78-strong field.