France's Alexander Levy made an excellent start to the defence of his Volvo China Open title at the testing Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club.

Levy carded five birdies and two bogeys in an opening 69 in Shanghai to lie just one shot off the lead held by Welshman Bradley Dredge, New Zealand's Michael Hendry and England's David Howell.

Ireland’s Damien McGrane carded a level par 72 while Michael Hoey shot a disappointing four over par 76.

Levy, who was joined on three under by compatriot Julien Quesne and Australian Marcus Fraser, said: "It's very good. The golf course is very tough, the greens are very firm so it's very difficult to put the ball close to the flag.

"It's a great three under and I am really happy with the game. The putting was good on the front nine and a little bit bad on the last nine but I feel more confidence with that and it will be good for the rest of the week.

"You need to be very patient. The par threes are very tough and sometimes you need to miss the green long or short because it's not possible to stop the ball on the green and it's nice to play a golf course like that."

The last of Dredge's two European Tour titles came in 2006 and he lost his card in 2012, but the 41-year-old regained it last year with consecutive runner-up finishes in Denmark and the Czech Republic.

"The greens were really firm so the big thing was if you were hitting fairways you had chances," Dredge said. "It was never easy getting the ball close to the hole with slopes on the greens and the firmness; it was quite tricky round there.

"This afternoon the wind is going to get up and it will be firmer still, so I'd be surprised if four under was beaten out there - it would be some score out there to beat four.

Hendry won on the Japan Golf Tour last week and admitted that had provided a welcome confidence boost.

"It makes the game a little easier I think," he said. "It's always nice to play tournaments when you're in good form."

Howell, who was fourth in the Shenzhen International on Sunday, birdied four of his last 10 holes, including holing from 40 feet on the 17th.

"I'm delighted, it's a really different test this week," said Howell, who won the last of his five European Tour titles in the Dunhill Links Championship in 2013. "We knew it was firm in practice, but it was hard to work out how difficult it was going to be. The scoring showed people are finding it tricky.

"My caddie said it was almost like a linksy challenge. It couldn't be any less links-like in some ways, here we are in the middle of a city, but it is in terms of ground conditions. There's lots of putting from off the greens so it's a different test but one I was certainly looking forward to taking on."

Two of the men who finished above Howell last week, tournament winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat and runner-up Li Hao-tong, both carded opening rounds of 71.