SHANGHAI: Rory McIlroy is facing a fight to retain his Race to Dubai title after a stunning finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai left Englishman Danny Willett breathing down his neck.
Willett’s 10-under-par 62 on Sunday, the lowest round of the week in a world-class field, saw him charge up the leaderboard at Sheshan International Golf Club to finish three strokes behind winner Russell Knox of Scotland.
It cut 2014 Race to Dubai champion McIlroy’s lead in the battle to be European number one to just 74,214 points, with Willett set to play one more event than the Northern Irishman.
The English world number 26 can strike a potentially decisive blow later this week across Shanghai when he tees up in the $7 million BMW Masters, which McIlroy is sitting out.
There are more than a million points up for grabs for the winner at Lake Malaren when Willett tees up on Thursday, a week before the season finale in Dubai.
McIlroy shot his best round of the week, a six-under 66, on Sunday, but needed a 35-foot birdie putt at the last to take a share of 11th place and keep his nose in front in the standings.
Willett said his eyes are firmly fixed on stealing the Race to Dubai crown from the four-time major winner and current world number three.
“This could be a very big result for me,” Willett told AFP after his final round at Sheshan.
“With Rory not playing next week, I could gain a few more points on him and give us a nice buzz going into the final week into Dubai.”
A finish anywhere in the top 25 in the 78-man BMW Masters field this week will see the in-form Willett overtake the absent McIlroy.
“I’ve been determined all year, ever since we got to number one the first week out (when Willett won the Nedbank Championship),” said Willett.
“After the big win at the Nedbank, kept winning and pressing hard and we were able to post some really good numbers around the world.”
Another victory this week for Willett would mean McIlroy would almost certainly have to win the closing DP Tour Championship in Dubai and hope Willett finishes outside the top five.
“He’s got a great chance to do something next week at the BMW,” McIlroy told AFP after his round Sunday. “He’s playing next week and has a great chance to creep up on me or overtake.
“I’ve done well in Dubai before,” added the Northern Irish world number three, whose challenge in the WGC-HSBC Champions was hampered by a bout of food poisoning last week.
“I’ll just go there and try my best to win and hope that will be enough.”