(REUTERS) - Spain's Sergio Garcia shot a sparkling eight-under 64 to grab the first round lead at the European Tour's BMW Masters in Shanghai on Thursday.
The Spaniard produced nine birdies in his round at Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai to sit one clear of South Korea's An Byeong-hun and Victor Dubuisson of France in the penultimate event of the European Tour's Race to Dubai series.
World number 11 Garcia is looking for his first win this year and was optimistic of breaking the drought after another trademark strong round tee-to-green. "I drove the ball very well and that gave me a lot of opportunities to hit some good iron shots. It was a nice round," the 35-year-old Spaniard said. "I had a couple of nice birdies, three birdies in the first four on my front nine and then another three or four birdies on the first four or five on the back nine. "Hopefully, I keep improving as the week goes on and we'll be out there on Sunday having a chance." Northern Ireland's Rory McIlory, the current Race to Dubai leader, is not playing in Shanghai this week which gives the chasing pack an opportunity to close in on the world number three before next week's finale in the UAE.
England's Danny Willett is second in the standings, Ireland's Shane Lowry third and South African Louis Oosthuizen fourth but all three struggled to keep pace with Garcia on Thursday's opening day.
Willett could only manage a level-par 72, while Lowry and Oosthuizen were at two-under in a share of 24th.
England's Justin Rose boosted his chances of improving on his fifth place standing by firing an opening round five-under 67 to share sixth with compatriot Paul Casey and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee.
Thongchai's card was spoiled by two dropped shots in his final four holes.