The top-ranked McIlroy recovered from early putting woes to finish at 6-under 66 for a total 23-under 265 at the season-ending tournament. Rose, who was tied for seventh after three rounds, surged down the stretch into contention after shooting a course-record 62 that included an eagle and eight birdies.
“I just wanted to finish the season the way I thought I deserved to finish the season,” McIlroy said after holing a birdie on 18 and raising his arms in the air in celebration. “You know, I played so well throughout the year and I didn’t want to just let it tail off sort of timidly. I wanted to come here and finish in style.”
Second-ranked Luke Donald (71) was tied for third with Charl Schwartzel (68) of South Africa. Louis Oosthuizen (69) was another shot back in fifth.
The day was supposed to be a duel between McIlroy and Donald, who were tied for the lead after the third round. The Englishman grabbed an early two-shot lead when McIlroy bogeyed the first and Donald birdied the second.
But then Donald three-putted the third to end a streak of 102 holes on the Earth Course without a bogey to give McIlroy a chance. He then had another bogey on No. 12 to fall three back and never challenged after that, missing the green on the 17th to end his chances.
In the meantime, Rose was climbing up the leaderboard.
The Englishman pulled within one of McIlroy with a birdie and then moved ahead with an eagle on No. 14 after his approach shot rolled to within 10 feet. He sank it for his first lead of the tournament and doubled his advantage when McIlroy three-putted on the 13th.
Rose had another birdie before his 60-foot eagle putt came within inches of the cup on No. 18, and he settled for birdie. Then, he had to wait.
“I thought it was going to be good, to be honest,” Rose said. “I caught a glimpse of the board walking to the 18th tee. I saw Rory had gone birdie, birdie, and he’s putting the squeeze on. But I knew that is what Rory does.”
At No. 17, McIlroy hit what was probably the shot of his tournament, landing a 5-iron within a few feet of the pin.
“You could easily be a lot right into the bunker and leave yourself a tricky up-and-down,” he said. “I committed to it and hit a great shot and followed it with a great putt for birdie to give myself that cushion going into the last.”