He won even though he surrendered three-fifths of the five-shot lead he carried through much of the day, a lead so gaping it appeared he could have finished up tidily using a wooden spoon and a spatula.
However, he steadied on the 17th and swerved a bunker disaster on the 18th to complete an emotional triumph.
Amid raucous scenes, with the massive gallery chanting his name as he played the final hole, he tapped in to move within two victories of Sam Snead's all-time record of 82 titles.
Woods' latest victory lifts him to world No 13, his highest world ranking since September 2014. As it stands, Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championship wins, the great landmark of the sport, may not be safe either.
Tiger Woods has won his first professional golf tournament in more than five years.
All that was left was the 42-year-old Woods in that red shirt, blazing brighter than ever, and a smile he couldn't shake walking up the 18th to collect another trophy.
"It hasn't been easy but I've been very lucky to have a great team around me and they've worked so hard to give me a chance, and also the support I've had from them means all the world to me".
Tiger Woods wins the 2018 Tour Championship
For those that take just a passing interest in golf, the last time they saw Woods would have been following his DUI arrest in May 2017.
A week before the Masters in April, Woods announces that he requires back surgery, forcing him to miss the year's opening major for the first time since 1994.
All year, Woods had shown signs of his old self.
"It was just a grind out there", Woods said of the final round. I could handle that from there.
McIlroy, playing with Woods, quickly dropped out of contention with an error-strewn driving performance that ultimately ended with a 74, leaving world number one Rose as the only realistic threat.
"I didn't want to get run over", Woods said with a laugh.
Woods eventually won by two shots with victory all-but guaranteed by a trademark, laser-like iron approach to the final hole.
Just four months after reporting he couldn't hit the ball more than 60 yards, Woods rejoined the PGA Tour and made the cut in his first event at Torrey Pines. He would be flying out a few hours later towards France for the Ryder Cup.More news: Here’s why the market is looking past the trade war