The Englishman played steady golf and did just enough Sunday to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship at TPC Blue Monster and threw his name into the hat as a Masters contender.
Rose, 31, won for the fourth time in the past 20 months, beating a field that included all 50 of the world’s top ranked players.
The Englishman rallied past Watson, the former Georgia Bulldog who carried a three-shot lead into the final round over Rose.
Rose closed with 2-under-par 70 to beat Watson, who struggled with his game, but still was in position to force a sudden-death playoff.
After a brilliant shot to the punishing Blue Monster’s 18th hole, Watson misread a 9-foot birdie putt and shot 74 to lose by one.
Rose, who started the week ranked 22nd in the world, was the winner at 16-under 272.
“I’m probably, now having had the start to the season that I’ve had, I’m probably in the mix of players to talk about (as a Masters contender) and I’ll have to field questions on it I’m sure,” Rose said.
There is now some question if Woods, who hasn’t played a complete schedule since 2007 because of injuries, will be ready for the Masters.
“Hopefully holding himself back for the Masters and doesn’t want to do any more damage,” Rose said.
Woods left the course after teeing off on the 12th hole. He cited a tightness in his left Achilles heel for his early departure.
Woods, who had shot 72-67-68 and was eight strokes off the lead at the start of the day, was 3-over-par for the day and tied for 27th when he withdrew. He didn’t have a birdie in his round.
Rose’s 70 was the first time all season that the winning score in the final round of an event wasn’t in the 60s.
“It turned out to be sort of a battle rather than a birdie fest, as it had been the first few days,” Rose said.
It followed an interesting pattern on the PGA Tour, where the 54-hole leader has won only three of the nine events.
“Maybe the talent is so deep out here that the guys are good enough to get themselves into contention,” Rose said. “But there’s definitely something about learning how to win. And, I don’t know, maybe there’s a lot of players who are good enough to win but just have not quite learned it yet. That’s what we are seeing.”
After the round, Watson said Sunday was “the worst I’ve hit the ball all year.”
He made just three birdies after striking for 20 in the first three rounds when he shot 70-62-67.
“But I still had a chance in the end, so I was proud of myself for fighting, not giving up, keep grinding it out, and never got down today,” Watson said. “Never got mad at myself. I just tried to figure it out.”
Watson has three PGA Tour titles, but has won only once in the five times he’s held a 54-hole lead.
“I’m trying to learn the game,” Watson said. “In a bad situation like this, I’m trying to figure out, how to correct it.”
Rory McIlroy closed with 67 to finish third and keep his No. 1 ranking for the second consecutive week. He’s only been out of the top 10 once since the PGA Championship in August.
“Even when I don’t feel like I’ve played my best or I am playing my best, that’s been the biggest improvement in my game is being able to turn those 71s and 72s into 69s or 68s and keep yourself in a tournamen,” McIlroy said. “That’s been the biggest improvement in my game in the last six months and it’s been the reason why I’ve been up there so much.”