By Mark Lamport-Stokes
NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - The United States, inspired by a sizzling birdie run from Stewart Cink, came from behind to seize control in Friday's unfinished fourball matches after the Ryder Cup was severely disrupted by torrential rain.
Play was suspended for more than seven hours at a waterlogged Celtic Manor before the Americans ended a frustrating day for the players and fans by leading in two of the four encounters and trailing in one.
They were all square in the third match out, where Ian Poulter holed a 25-foot birdie putt for Europe at the par-three 10th before play ended for the day in the gathering gloom.
"That was very important," European captain Colin Montgomerie said of Poulter's putt. "It was a fantastic effort and that will give us momentum we need to carry forward into a very busy day tomorrow."
Organizers of the biennial team competition have already amended the format in a bid to make up for lost time after the first suspension of play since 1997.
A revamped second session on Saturday will feature six foursomes while a new extended third session will comprise two foursomes and four fourball encounters - both involving all 12 players.
Friday's appalling weather did, however, prompt debate over whether the Ryder Cup should be played as late as October.
"It was a tough day at the start and I was obviously pleased with the way the U.S. team came back and performed this afternoon," skipper Corey Pavin said. "I was very proud of the guys."
The Americans had trailed in three of the four games when play was suspended in driving rain during the morning before Cink sparked a stirring fightback on the resumption.
The 2009 British Open champion, accidentally overlooked by Pavin in Thursday's opening ceremony introductions, was the day's outstanding player, holing a series of lengthy putts as he and rookie Matt Kuchar went two up on Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell after 11 holes.
The U.S. duo had trailed by one after four but Cink, who drained a 40-footer at the par-three third, rolled in further birdie putts from 60 feet at the fifth, 25 feet at the seventh and 10 feet at the 10th.
"He made some nice putts and just got it going," Pavin said of Cink's red-hot form on the greens. "That's how you do well in the Ryder Cup is you make putts. Maybe it will spread to the other guys, too."
Cink, making his fifth Ryder Cup appearance, was elated after recording five birdies in 11 holes.
"When your ball is going into the hole it feels great, especially in the Ryder Cup," he said. "It was fun. I played really well, I really did."
In the bottom match, U.S. rookies Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson got off to a fast birdie-birdie start and were one up on Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington after eight holes.
World number one Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker led British duo Poulter and Ross Fisher one up after nine holes before Poulter's birdie at the 10th squared the match.
Europe led the top encounter where third-ranked Lee Westwood and U.S. PGA champion Martin Kaymer were one up on Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson after 12 holes.
Westwood and Kaymer had gone three up after six before Mickelson and Johnson clawed their way back to trail by one.
"Dustin and Phil were always going to be tricky to compete against," Westwood said. "The big hitters have made the most of the two par-fives that we have just played and it's going to be a tight match."
More than 40 percent of the average monthly rainfall for October has fallen at Celtic Manor in less than 24 hours but relatively dry weather is forecast for Saturday.
This year's Ryder Cup was the first to be staged in October since the 1983 edition at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida, sparking criticism about the timing of the PGA Tour's recent FedExCup series.
"The European Tour is coming under a lot of pressure from the American tour," former European Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher told BBC Five Live.
"It has taken five weeks to play the FedEx Cup and that is the problem. We should have been playing this Ryder Cup two or three weeks ago. It would really help the European weather that's for sure."
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)