Their playful duel was decided by Watson’s eagle, giving him 10-under-par 62 and a one-shot lead.
The former Georgia Bulldog belted a 3-iron that barely got over a palm tree, carried over the water into the wind and settled 6 feet away on the par-5 eighth for an eagle putt that gave him a one-shot lead over Rose.
Mark Wilson, the third player in that group, shot 70 and was just along for the ride.
“They did everything right,” Wilson said. “It was some of the best golf I’ve seen collectively between them.”
Watson was at 12-under 132 and will get to play again in the final group today with Rose, who settled for 64.
“Maybe they’ve been cutting the hole a little bigger,” Rose said.
Despite the steady wind, there were plenty of low scores on the Blue Monster. The average score was 69.9, close to three strokes easier than the opening round. There were 12 scores in the 60s on Thursday, and 31 of them Friday.
Tiger Woods played bogey-free for 67 and actually lost ground. He moved up the leaderboard, but is seven shots behind going into the weekend, with 14 players ahead of him.
Rory McIlroy, in his first tournament as the new world No. 1, managed 69 and fell 10 shots off the lead.
Perhaps most peculiar about Watson being atop the leaderboard at Doral is that he really doesn’t like the course. Without many trees except for the waving palms, he can’t figure out where he’s supposed to be hitting the ball. But he kept hitting it long, had short irons into the greens and made his share of putts. That works just about anywhere.
As always, there were a few shots that only Watson can see.
He was so far left of the sixth fairway, that a tree was blocking his path to the green. Watson had only 135 yards to the hole, but instead of playing a sand wedge, he hit 9-iron and aimed it some 20 yards right of the green, slicing it back into the left-to-right wind beyond the hole until the wind pushed it back on the descent. It landed 6 feet from the cup.
His caddie, Ted Scott, keeps notes in the yardage book of how Watson plays each hole in every round. Next to the 9-iron from 135 yards, he put “Wow.”
There was another “wow” inscription two holes later.
Watson was in the fairway on the par-5 eighth, but the best path to the green was around a palm tree.
“I took it right up the edge of that tree. There’s a little tree there and it actually nicked that limb a little bit,” Watson said. “I hit it as hard as I could, just a low, what everybody calls a stinger. Hit as hard as I could low and knew it wasn’t going to slice. So all I was protecting was the draw and it went dead straight and came off perfect. And the rest is history.”
Adam Scott 68 and is at 10-under 134, two shots out of the lead.
Thomas Bjorn has yet to make a bogey in 36 holes and had another 68. He was four shots behind, tied with PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who had 67. The group at 7-under 137 included Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel and former PGA champion Martin Kaymer.
Phil Mickelson is 1-under after 71.