SHANGHAI - Defending champion Alexander Levy made a battling three under par at the Volvo China Open Thursday to put him within striking distance of the lead at the $3.2 million tournament.

The Frenchman was in a group of three one shot behind leaders Bradley Dredge of Wales, Michael Hendry of New Zealand and England's David Howell at the par 72 Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club. Levy was joined by compatriot Julien Quesne and Australian Marcus Fraser on three under, while Chinese number one Li Haotong was on a respectable one under. Dredge and Hendry carded bogey-free rounds on the opening day of the tournament, which is co-sanctioned by the European and OneAsia Tours.

"The greens were really firm so the big thing was if you were hitting the fairways, you had chances," said Dredge, a two-time European Tour winner. "It was never easy getting the ball close to the hole with slopes on the greens and the firmness. It was quite a tricky round out there," he added, according to information released by the tournament's organisers.  Hendry won the Japan Tour title last week, a victory he said had boosted his confidence in China. "It makes the game a little easier I think," he said.

"It is always nice to play tournaments when you're in good form."  Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who won last week's Shenzhen International, joined China's Li on one under.

The pair tussled in a playoff at the Shenzhen tournament last Sunday, but Aphibarnrat emerged victorious to end Li's dream of a maiden European Tour victory. They both bogeyed their opening holes in Shanghai before finishing stronger in the second half of the round.