SHANGHAI – Sergio Garcia is winding down his European Tour season just as everyone else is gearing up for the grand finale, next week's DP World Tour Championship.
Even though Garcia isn't playing next week and is already focusing on 2016, he still wants to wrap up this season on a strong note by taking the title this weekend at the BMW Masters in Shanghai.
The Spaniard is off to a quick start, shooting an 8-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead over Victor Dubuisson and Byeong-hun An after the first round on Thursday.
Garcia birdied four of his first five holes and added another five after the turn to equal his best round on the European Tour this year in a persistent drizzle that soaked the course and led to low scoring at Lake Malaren Golf Club. He hit 14 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
''I drove the ball very well and that gave me a lot of opportunities to hit some good iron shots,'' he said. ''It was the kind of round that you're looking for.''
Dubuisson has already found what he's looking for, a rich vein of form. The Frenchman won the Turkish Airlines Open two weeks ago in stirring fashion when he made three birdies on his last four holes to overtake Jaco Van Zyl.
On Thursday, he picked up right where he left off by making seven birdies in a blemish-free round.
''I feel so good on the greens,'' Dubuisson said. ''When I read the line good, the putt can only go in the hole, and you don't have this feeling much of the time.''
Ross Fisher of England and Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark were another stroke back in equal-fourth.
Fisher, who had six birdies and no bogeys in his round of 66, almost didn't play this week after receiving only a 10-day visa from the Chinese government before last week's HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
He said he was turned away when he tried to extend the visa at the Shanghai Entry-Exit Bureau on Monday, but was finally successful after receiving an 11th-hour letter from local sports officials supporting the extension.
''There were a lot of papers flying around, there were a lot of phone calls, emails being sent,'' he said. ''To say it was a stressful buildup to today would be an understatement. There were times when I was thinking I might be booking a flight to go home.''
Paul Casey, who eagled the par-4 14th hole,Thongchai Jaidee, and Justin Rose were three strokes behind Garcia at 5 under, and a group of nine players was another shot back at 4 under, including Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, and 18-year-old Zecheng Dou of China.
The BMW Masters is the third of four events in the European Tour's Final Series, ending with next week's World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy is skipping the BMW Masters, giving Danny Willett, immediately behind him in the standings, a chance to make up ground. But Willett, who can overtake McIlroy this week by finishing in 28th place or better, was well off the pace after shooting even par. He was in a tie for 48th.
''It's obviously a long four-week stretch, (and I'm) trying to stay fresh,'' he said. ''Regardless of what happens this week ... if we win next week, we're going to win the Race to Dubai.''