Rory McIlroy will take a lead of just 1,613 points into the DP World Tour Championship next week as he looks to win a third Race to Dubai title in the last four years.
McIlroy did not play the BMW Masters and would have been overtaken by Danny Willett if the Englishman had finished alone in 28th or better in Shanghai.
However, a final round of 70 at Lake Malaren left Willett in a tie for 28th with two other players as he looks to finish the year as European No 1 for the first time.
A total of seven players can still win the Race to Dubai, although Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace need to finish second or better at Jumeirah Golf Estates, while Byeong Hun An has to be first.
“Last week was pretty stale obviously I had a good last round and this week’s just been stale again,” said Willett, who carded a closing 62 to finish third in the HSBC Champions.
“I putted pretty poorly for four days. I never really got anything going. It’s close though and I guess you can look at it as if I go there next week and I win, I win. It’s one of those good situations to be in. I’ve got a day and a half off to regroup and chill out and I know I’m going to have a chance next week.”
McIlroy has held top spot since finishing fourth in the Masters in April, pulling clear of the pack with victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play three weeks later.
With the four-time major winner out of action in the summer due to an ankle injury, Willett closed the gap with a tie for sixth in the Open at St Andrews and his second victory of the season a week later in the Omega European Masters.
Rose, who followed up his victory in the Hong Kong Open with a share of seventh in the BMW Masters, said: “I always knew I was going to have to win one of these two weeks, so hopefully I’m deferring and can finish it off on the grand stage in Dubai.”
McIlroy will be confident of holding on to top spot given his record in the season-ending event, the 26-year-old finishing in the top five in five of his six appearances, winning in 2012 and finishing second behind Henrik Stenson last year.