Europe seized the early initiative at the Ryder Cup in Wales before torrential rain forced the suspension of play, the Europeans leading their American rivals in three of the four morning four balls as the 38th edition of the famous bienniel contest got under way.

It was not clear when play would be able to resume as heavy rain continued to fall and teams of groundstaff worked vainly to mop up large pools of water and pump rapidly filling bunkers.

Earlier, the United States duo of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson hit the opening shots before a packed grandstand at the first tee, where football match-style chants of “Europe, Europe” and “Ole Ole Ole” filled the air.

The intimidating atmosphere and hostile conditions appeared to affect Johnson the most, the 26-year-old rookie slicing his shot off the first tee to roars of delight from the pro-European galleries.

Mickelson and Johnson were quickly one down in their contest with Europe’s powerful duo of Lee Westwood and US PGA champion Martin Kaymer, Westwood making a birdie on the second hole to draw first blood.

By the time play was suspended, Westwood and Kaymer were two up after five holes. In the second match, Northern Irish duo Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were locked in what was shaping up to be a fierce battle with Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, the Europeans one up after four holes.

The other matches saw world number one Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker also fall behind to England’s Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher at the first hole, when Fisher made a solid par and the Americans both bogeyed.

But Woods birdied the par-five second after a superb third shot left him with a six-footer to level the match.

Englishman Poulter responded in kind on the third, draining a long putt from the edge of the green to birdie and regain the lead.

The only bright spot for US captain Corey Pavin was the form of rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton who went two-up after two holes in their contest with Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.

Pavin’s decision to start Watson and Overton had raised eyebrows when the pairings were announced on Thursday, but the move rapidly appeared to be an inspired gambit as first Overton then Watson sank birdies.

Friday’s play is also scheduled to have four afternoon foursomes.