McIlroy leads Danny Willett by just 74,213 points as he looks to win the Race to Dubai for the third time in four years, but is not playing in the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren.
Willett can claim top spot heading into the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai by finishing 28th or better in the 78-man field in Shanghai, while Shane Lowry, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose need to finish second or better and Branden Grace requires a win.
“If we can go to Dubai somewhere close or in front, or hopefully in front by a good ways, it will make it really good,” said Willett, who carded a brilliant final round of 62 in the WGC-HSBC Champions last week to reduce his deficit to McIlroy by more than 320,000 points.
“I’m just going to try and do the same as last week, knuckle down and work hard and hopefully can have another good week this week.”
Willett won the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the start of the season and the Omega European Masters in July, a week after finishing in a tie for sixth in the Open Championship at St Andrews.
The 28-year-old from Sheffield admits his form dipped slightly after finishing third in the Italian Open, but has bounced back with a share of 11th in the Turkish Airlines Open and a tie for third across the city at Sheshan International on Sunday.
“I had a bit of a lull before that,” the world number 22 said. “I was working on a few things and it took a little bit longer to bed in, but hopefully it’s on the way back up now to where we’ve been and I can keep moving forward.
”It would be great to win the Race to Dubai. It’s nice to win tournaments and to play certain events, but an Order of Merit means you’ve played great over a 12-month period, not just a one-off.”
Rose, who finished top of the money list in 2007 and third in each of the last two seasons, added the BMW Masters to his schedule after winning his eighth European Tour title in Hong Kong three weeks ago.
“It is always nice to pick up a win late in the season and pick up some points and obviously that gives me a better shot at the Race to Dubai,” the former US Open champion said.
“I feel very good about my game. Getting back from Hong Kong, it was more a case of relaxing and recharging the batteries before a bit of travelling and one final, last-ditch effort to try and overtake Rory and Danny and a couple of the other guys ahead of me.
“If I win any of the last two events that puts me ahead of them, depending on what they do. For me it’s fairly simple – I need to play well for the next two weeks.”
Rose was fourth at Lake Malaren last year, missing out on the three-may play-off won by Germany’s Marcel Siem by a shot after recovering from a nightmare start.
“Last year was an interesting tournament for me,” the 35-year-old added. “I was four over through the first four holes of the tournament and went on a tear from there, and I was 23 under par for the next 56 holes before Sunday got pretty tricky. Then I bogeyed the last to miss a play-off.
“Hopefully it’s a course that does suit my eye. It’s a course that you have to drive the ball well on and distance definitely helps around here. The closing stretch is obviously tricky and 17 and 18 typically play into the prevailing wind from what I remember. That caused some trouble last year for a lot of guys coming down the stretch. I played the par fives well and I think that helps build a good score around here.”