U.S. holders on top after rain ruins opening day

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - The United States holders, inspired by a blistering run from Stewart Cink, came from behind to seize control in Friday's unfinished fourball matches after the 38th 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 20-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 told reporters 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 the 1997 edition at Valderrama, Spain.

A revamped second session on Saturday will feature six foursomes involving all 12 players while a new extended third session will comprise two foursomes and four fourball encounters.

"It was a tough start with the weather and I was obviously pleased with the way the U.S. team came back and performed this afternoon," skipper Corey Pavin said.

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.

OUTSTANDING PLAYER

The 2009 British Open champion was the 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 holes 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.

In the bottom match, U.S. rookies Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson 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 were in control in 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.

More than 40 percent of the average monthly rainfall for September and October has fallen at Celtic Manor in less than 24 hours but relatively dry weather is forecast for Saturday.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)