SHANGHAI - Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium made nine birdies on a soft Lake Malaren course Friday for an 8-under 64, giving him a one-shot lead over Alexander Levy of France going into the weekend of the BMW Masters.
It was the latest step for Colsaerts regaining some form after going 75 tournaments worldwide since his last victory in 2012 at the World Match Play Championship. One of the longest hitters in the game, Colsaerts has been hitting it relatively straight at Lake Malaren, which is a dangerous combination.
He again took advantage of the par 5s, making birdie on all four of them. Colsaerts is 9 under on the par 5s this week.
Colsaerts was at 14-under 130.
Levy quickly expanded on his first-round lead with three birdies in the opening four holes. He made two more birdies in the middle of the back nine to try to keep pace with Colsaerts and wound up with a 66.
''I kept on hitting good drives, which for me here is a big bonus because it's pretty soft,'' Colsaerts said. ''If I keep it out in the short stuff, I'm going to have a lot of shorter clubs in than lots of the other guys, so I can see this course a bit more takeable than the others.''
Levy already has twice this year, including the Volvo China Open. His most recent win was in Portugal this month in an event shortened to 36 holes by rain. He beat Colsaerts, who had opened with a 60 and couldn't hold off the Frenchman.
Romain Wattel of France had a 67 and was three shots behind. Branden Grace of South Africa (66) was among three players at 10-under 140.
Overnight rain soaked Lake Malaren, and the players caught a break when heavy rain in the forecast never materialized. Instead there was an overcast sky, soft fairways and slow greens. It was long enough that Colsaerts had to hit fairway metal into some of the par 5s, though he still had no trouble reaching them.
''I was actually surprised at how well I've managed them, because for somebody that hits it as long as me, I don't really think my stats on the par 5s are as good as they should be,'' Colsaerts said. ''There's probably guys that hit it a lot shorter and have a much better scoring average on par 5s. ... I'm quite happy with the way the par 5s have been going because I've been going pretty low on them.''
Colsaerts returned to the Ryder Cup, but only to do TV. His world ranking has slipped all the way to No. 142, though he has shown signs the last month. Along with his runner-up finish in Portugal, he tied for fourth in the Wales Open.
''I felt like I've been in the zone a couple of times lately, and it doesn't really happen in such a short period of time like this,'' he said. ''So it's pretty nice when you can get it going like this. I've been playing quite well for the last couple of months.''
Thomas Bjorn hasn't played at all since the Ryder Cup. His neck had been bothered him even at Gleneagles, though he didn't let on and made it through the week. He was supposed to play the World Match Play and couldn't get out of bed for three days.
He wasn't expecting much at the BMW Masters, though he wasn't expecting a start like this. Bjorn missed a short putt on the opening hole to make bogey, and then took a triple-bogey 8 on the third hole. Just like that, he was back to even par for the tournament. The rest of the round was a blur. Bjorn closed out the front nine with three straight birdies, and then birdied his last two holes for a 67.
He was at 9-under 135, five shots behind.
''You have days like that where all of a sudden, it just all starts going your way,'' Bjorn said. ''And that was my day today. I would like to play the first three again.''
Graeme McDowell got careless with two shots on the back nine that led to bogeys, giving him a 69 and putting him six shots behind along with Shane Lowry (66) and Jamie Donaldson (68). Ernie Els and Justin Rose were another shot behind.