McIlroy, the defending BMW Masters champion, also would need to finish outside the top seven on the Lake Malaren Golf Club course.
With six events remaining in the European Tour season, Rose arrived in China's financial capital trailing McIlroy by $353,000 on the money list.
Having won the money title in 2007, Rose says it would mean a lot more to earn it this time.
"When I won the Order of Merit in 2007 it kind of felt like it happened out of the blue that season," Rose said. "But I now feel like if it happened again this season, it would come from a different place.
"It would come from what has been a bit of a miraculous year, and a year when I seemed to play well in the right tournaments. It would be a lot more meaningful based on there's been a lot of hard work that's gone on between 2007 and now.
"I am a lot more aware of why I'm playing well, and a lot more sustainable into the future. And to be No. 1 of any tour, especially the European Tour, that's a huge goal and that would be a huge honor to be honest.
"So it's got my attention for these next few events."
Rose comes into the BMW Masters on a high after a superb season on the U.S. PGA Tour, winning the Ryder Cup, and the eight-man World Golf Final exhibition in Turkey last week.
"I'm hoping not to come down from that (Ryder Cup) high just yet, I'm still feeling positive about everything," Rose said.
"For some guys you can come back to real life and real tournaments and when you're not in contention, the thrill of that week seems a million miles away from what you might be experiencing on the golf course if you are running 30th, 40th in the field.
"So while it is very important not to be in the past when you're playing each individual tournament, you have got to cherish those memories, because what happened for me personally at the Ryder Cup on that Sunday are stories for the grandkids."
McIlroy and Rose, who will play the opening round together in Shanghai, also will compete in next week's HSBC Champions in Shenzhen.
However, McIlroy will play at the Singapore Open and Hong Kong Open, whereas Rose will not.
"Rory is playing a lot of European Tour golf through to the run-up to Dubai, so I am going to have to play well and figure I'm going to have to win one of these next two weeks to give myself a really good chance in Dubai," Rose said.
The tour's season-ending Dubai event starts on Nov. 22.