Masters champion Danny Willett begins a four-week round-the-world odyssey in China on Thursday with the express purpose of finishing a memorable year as Europe’s No 1 golfer.
The 29-year-old from Sheffield leads the ‘Race to Dubai’ rankings by 400,000 points from Open champion Henrik Stenson, and by a further 600,000 from Rory McIlroy, who is seeking to become the first man since Stenson to win the money list on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year.
McIlroy believes he needs to win one of three events he will play in the next four weeks to pip Willett to the title, just as he did in Dubai last November.
Willett is showing no desire to sit on his lead, however, and has opted to play in all of the final four events, starting with the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China today.
After an event that includes 40 of the world’s top 50, Willett and McIlroy head to Turkey for the Turkish Airlines Open, then a fortnight later it is the DP World Championship in Dubai when the money-list winner will be decided.
In between that, Willett will squeeze in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, an exclusive and lucrative event that used to be held at the start of the year and which was in December, 2014, the scene of a victory for Willett that sparked his rise up the world order that culminated in his glorious first major triumph at Augusta in April.
“Winning there in 2014 was the start of a great period for me and the Nedbank Golf Challenge is always an enjoyable tournament,” said Willett, who is ranked ninth in the world. “A good performance could be very important as we head to the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.”
McIlroy is looking to win the ‘Race to Dubai’ for the third year in succession and fourth time in the last five years. First prize in China this week is 1.4m euros – with one euro equalling one ‘Race to Dubai’ point – and would go a long way to helping his cause.
“It would be great to get the double,” said McIlroy, who won the PGA Tour’s money list the week before the Ryder Cup.
“I’ve got three tournaments left to try to do that. I’ve got a lot of ground to make up as well. Danny has had a great season, so has Henrik, so I know what I need to do. I probably need at least one win, hopefully two, and, hopefully, those boys not to play as good as they have been.”