JOHANNESBURG -- Richard Sterne cruised to his first European Tour title in more than four years, winning the Joburg Open by seven shots on Sunday.
Sterne shot a bogey-free 64 to finish with a tournament record total of 27 under at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club and win by the largest margin in tournament history.
"That was probably the best final round of my career," Sterne said. "It was quite special to finish the way I did."
Fellow overnight leader Trevor Fisher Jr. faltered on the final day, allowing Sterne to finish well clear of Charl Schwartzel (66) in second. Fisher eagled the first but sank to a 1-over 73 that dropped him into a tie for sixth, despite sitting five shots clear of the field with Sterne at the start of the final round.
The victory was Sterne's first since winning the 2008 Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open in back-to-back weeks, and represented a major milestone for the 31-year-old player, who led at the halfway stage of last week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic before finishing second to Stephen Gallacher.
Sterne had risen to 29th in the world rankings following those back-to-back successes on home soil in December 2008, but then dropped out of the top 1,000 after a form of arthritis in his back forced him to miss most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
"After all the hard work and the time out with injury, I did think whether I was ever going to win again," Sterne said. "At one point the pain was so bad that I even wondered if I'd ever play golf again. But now I know I can."
Ricardo Santos of Portugal matched Sterne's final-day score of 64 to earn a share of third place alongside Chilean Felipe Aguilar (67) and South African George Coetzee (67).
In what proved a close race for second place, Johannesburg native Schwartzel shot eight birdies in his 66 to finish on 20-under 267. Garth Mulroy, Brandon Pieters and Keith Horne had all been in contention at the turn, but were unable to maintain their birdie runs over the back nine.
Scotland's David Drysdale remained the best-placed British golfer, tied for 11th after dropping a costly shot on 16 having opened up with five birdies on the front nine. England's Tommy Fleetwood tied for 13th on 15 under after his closing 69 saw him finish on 272.
Sterne now moves into the lead in the Race to Dubai money title chase.
"It was a pretty special day," said Sterne. "It is quite tough coming from a good week into another week; you kind of do expect to play well, but I got off to such a good start on the West Course and felt comfortable. Having won here before I do enjoy the place and that is why I keep coming back."
Sterne, who began the week ranked 94th in the world, has his sights now set on breaking into the top 50.
"I would like to get back into all the majors. That's where I want to be playing," he said. "It is a big year. I have got off to such a nice start so hopefully I can keep it going."