Rory McIlroy just five shots back in Shanghai despite losing 10lbs from food poisoning as Danny Willett starts strong

Rory McIlroy just five shots back in Shanghai despite losing 10lbs from food poisoning as Danny Willett starts strong Branden Grace leads HSBC Champions after first round in ShanghaiEngland's Danny Willett two shots back on seven-under-parRace to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy three shots behind nearest rival Willett 

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Rory McIlroy lost 10lb in 48 hours here after eating a dodgy club sandwich. 

And when he rose from his sickbed to reach the first tee at the WGC-HSBC Championship on Thursday, he also took a hefty weight off the minds of the powers-that-be on the European Tour.

They had already given him special dispensation to contest the Race to Dubai despite not meeting the stipulated minimum number of events. What on earth would they have done if severe food poisoning prevented him from playing in another one?

Rory McIlroy reacts after an approach shot on the 15th hole during the first round in Shanghai on Thursday

Rory McIlroy reacts after an approach shot on the 15th hole during the first round in Shanghai on Thursday

Big-hitting American Dustin Johnson approaches the 18th hole at the Sheshan International Golf Club

Big-hitting American Dustin Johnson approaches the 18th hole at the Sheshan International Golf Club

Englishman Ian Poulter plays an iron against the backdrop of the Shanghai skyline

Englishman Ian Poulter plays an iron against the backdrop of the Shanghai skyline

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 04:  Jordan Spieth of the United States gives a thumbs-up during the Pro Am event prior to the start of the WGC - HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club on November 4, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) Jordan Spieth is the reluctant hero as two-time major winner... Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland makes his way to the clubhouse after the second round of the Turkish Airlines Open at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club in Antalya, Turkey.  




ANTALYA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 30, 2015:  
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images) Rory McIlroy struck down by food poisoning in Shanghai as he... Tiger Woods' ex-caddie Steve Williams has a 'tell-all' book... Rory McIlroy buckles under pressure to hand a tearful Victor... Share this article Share

The panic was over when a pasty-faced Northern Irishman showed up to play his first round in the prevalent mix of smog and sunshine and a four-under-par 68 represented a gutsy return, one that left him alongside his rival Jordan Spieth, five shots behind the leader, South African Branden Grace.

As for the Dubai race, McIlroy owns a healthy 400,000 points lead and the chances of England’s Danny Willett chasing him down over the final three events have been ranked on a par with Nico Rosberg’s pursuit of Lewis Hamilton. But hold on to your helmets. This one might yet reach the Middle East with not much between them.

Certainly Willett has not given up hope. The Englishman’s chronic back issues mean it is generally unwise for him to play four tournaments in a row but he has committed himself to such a run for the first time in four years, reasoning: ‘Imagine missing one and reaching the end a few thousand euros behind Rory. I’d spend the winter feeling a ton of regret.’

Willett did his campaign no harm with an accomplished 65 that underlined the strides forward he has made in this, his breakthrough season. He has never been outside the top two in the Race to Dubai all year, with two wins to his name. As for these World Golf Championship events, he has emphasised how comfortable he feels on the big stage by finishing third, 12th, and 17th in the other three staged this year.

McIlroy said: ‘Other people might think I’m well ahead but I played with Danny last week in Turkey and I can see what a good player he has become. I know I’ve got to play some great golf if I am going to stay ahead of him.’ 

Englishman Danny Willett - still in the hunt to win the Race to Dubai - tees off on the second hole

Englishman Danny Willett - still in the hunt to win the Race to Dubai - tees off on the second hole

RACE TO DUBAI TOP 5 

1) Rory McIlroy (NIR) - 3,268,695 points

2) Danny Willett (ENG) - 2,869,310 points

3) Shane Lowry (IRL) - 2,651,219 points

4) Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) - 2,559,207 points

5) Justin Rose (ENG) - 2,528,224 points

Such are the points on offer here, if the two players finished on Sunday in the positions they occupied yesterday, there would be precious little between them. 

The other thing Willett has in his favour is that McIlroy is not playing in next week’s BMW Masters, also in Shanghai.

With no wind and soft greens, this fine course was practically defenceless and it showed with no fewer than 41 players breaking 70. 

Among the other eye-catching scores were 65s for Americans Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson but Ian Poulter, desperate for a good week to boost his world ranking, could only manage a 72.

Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson makes a trademark recovery on the 13th hole

Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson makes a trademark recovery on the 13th hole

World No 2 Jordan Spieth plays his second shot at the par-five 14th hole in Shanghai on Thursday

World No 2 Jordan Spieth plays his second shot at the par-five 14th hole in Shanghai on Thursday

RELATED ARTICLES Previous 1 Next SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 04:  Jordan Spieth of the United States gives a thumbs-up during the Pro Am event prior to the start of the WGC - HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club on November 4, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) Jordan Spieth is the reluctant hero as two-time major winner... Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland makes his way to the clubhouse after the second round of the Turkish Airlines Open at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club in Antalya, Turkey.  




ANTALYA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 30, 2015:  
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images) Rory McIlroy struck down by food poisoning in Shanghai as he... Tiger Woods' ex-caddie Steve Williams has a 'tell-all' book... Rory McIlroy buckles under pressure to hand a tearful Victor... Share this article Share

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