“I don’t really see anybody touching it for a long time,” Palmer said while Woods made his way up the 18th fairway. “I had the opportunity to win a tournament five times, and I knew how difficult that was.”
Rose, who played the first two rounds with Woods, closed with a 70 to finish alone in second.
He pulled to within two shots of Woods with a birdie on the 16th. Woods was in the group behind him in the fairway bunker on the par-five, and hit an eight-iron over the water and onto the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie to restore his margin.
“He plays every shot like he plays them on Sunday,” Rose said. “His intensity is the same on Thursday often as it is on Sunday, and that makes Sunday a lot less different for him. He plays in that kind of atmosphere far more regularly than a lot of guys do, and it’s an adjustment for most of us. It’s a known for him.”
Fowler had to settle for a 73 and a tie for third with Mark Wilson (71), Keegan Bradley (71) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (72).
Rory McIlroy had been No. 1 since he won the PGA Championship last August. He can reclaim the No. 1 ranking by winning the Houston Open this week. Woods heads home to south Florida for two weeks before the Masters.
Asked the last time he felt this good going to Augusta National, Woods replied: “It’s been a few years.”
This was the fourth time in his career that he already had three PGA Tour wins before the Masters — he did not win a green jacket in any of the previous years (2000, 2003 and 2008). More telling, perhaps, is that Woods has won back-to-back starts for the first time since the Buick Open and Bridgestone Invitational in August 2009.