Though he had not been able to turn those outings into victories, they were proof to the golf world that he still had what it took to win on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy, who won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup title in 2016, was left to rue failing to take advantage of the par fives as he added a 68 to his opening 67.
Woods was in position to nab his third-ever FedEx Cup trophy, but Rose's clutch birdie on the final hole gave him the edge.
Woods has gone more than five years without winning.
"I've gone through a lot this year to get myself to this point, and understanding and fighting my way through it, I'm certainly more equipped than I was in March because of what I've gone through", Woods told reporters.
"It's been tough. I've had it not so easy the last couple of years and I've worked my way back".
"I've got a three-shot lead". I've been playing well throughout the entire summer, just piecing it together, building, building and building. Not knowing what was on the other side. "It's been a very evolving kind of feeling and journey".
The 14 major victor did it in Atlanta, amidst a roaring cheer by the crowd.
But neither put on any pressure.
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He is alone in third and just two shots back of the leaders at the halfway stage of the season-ending tournament.
Less than a year ago he was 1,199 in the world after spinal fusion surgery - the latest of multiple operations.
The victory was nothing like the clinical finishes during Woods' world-beating prime, but he has maintained a flawless record when holding a 54-hole lead of more than two shots.
Compatriot Justin Thomas, who will play alongside Woods for Team USA at this week's Ryder Cup, shared a snap of the buzz on the final green and said "golf couldn't be in a better place". "It was just a matter of time before he does win".
"Tiger's played so well on a very hard golf course and we nearly kind of expected it". We all have been kind of expecting it. "And the next thing you know, I was off and running".
Watch the Tour Championship throughout the weekend live on Sky Sports.
McIlroy birdied two of his first three holes but then lost a shot with a bogey on the par-four number four.
Woods also is a -220 favorite over Mickelson in their match play event in November in Las Vegas.