Yorkshire’s Willett hoping to exploit McIlroy’s absence in race to No 1

World No 3 Rory McIlroy will be an interested spectator as the third event of the European Tour’s Final Series gets under way in China on Thursday.

Sheffield's Danny Willett is chasing the European No 1 spot in 2015.

McIlroy leads Yorkshire’s 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.

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“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.”