Sterne cruises to 7-stroke Joburg Open win

After battling Trevor Fisher, Jr. for much of the tournament, Richard Sterne pulled away with an 8-under 64 on Sunday to win the Joburg Open by seven strokes.

Sterne, who was coming off a runner-up finish at the Dubai Desert Classic, ended at 27-under 260 and picked up a long overdue sixth European Tour win. The South African titled here in 2008, but hadn't produced another victory since December of that year.

"It was a pretty special day," said Sterne. "I played really good golf today and the whole week really."

Fisher shared the lead with Sterne through 36 and 54 holes, but the Sunshine Tour regular stumbled to a 1-over 73 at the East Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club and dropped into a tie for sixth place at minus-18.

Charl Schwartzel, a two-time Joburg Open winner, produced a second-place finish in his season debut. The 2011 Masters champion turned in a final-round 66 and ended at 20-under.

George Coetzee (67), Ricardo Santos (64) and Felipe Aguilar (67) tied for third at 19-under, while Keith Horne (65) and Thomas Aiken (66) shared sixth with Fisher.

It was another close call for Coetzee, who is still seeking his first European Tour win despite 22 top-10 finishes. Prior to this outing, the South African tied for second at the Qatar Masters.

Sterne was close to finding the winner's circle last week in Dubai when he jumped out to a 1-shot lead through 36 holes, but the long awaited victory was put on hold and reduced to a runner-up result when Stephen Gallacher rallied for the win.

"It's quite tough coming from a good week into another week; you kind of do expect to play well," Sterne admitted. "But I got off to such a good start on the West Course (which he played in round one before switching to the East Course for the remainder of the week) and felt comfortable."

Now, the 31-year-old has his sixth European Tour victory; one that has eluded him since 2008 due in part an arthritic condition in his back.

Of the two overnight leaders, it was actually Fisher who jumped ahead early with an eagle at the par-5 first. It was not a sign of things to come, however, as he faltered with three bogeys over his next six holes.

That was all the margin Sterne needed, as the resilient veteran birdied his first two holes, and later reeled off three straight birdies starting at No. 6 to close his outward nine with a 5-stroke advantage.

It was a formality from there, as Fisher suffered a double bogey on the 11th and the eventual champion carded three more birdies to close his bogey-free round in style.

"I didn't think I was going to be out for so long, but six months became a year and then almost two," said Sterne. "The only thing that kept me going was all the other South Africans. They kept winning a lot of events and I believed that if they could do it then I could."

NOTES: Sterne became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to only drop one shot in a 72-hole European Tour event ... Sterne played in 54 European Tour events between wins ... Schwartzel finished 2012 with back-to-back wins, which came by a combined 23 shots ... This tournament is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Sunshine Tour of South Africa ... Defending champion Branden Grace missed the cut on Friday after turning in rounds of 72 and 70.