Anthony Kim, at 23 the youngest member of the U.S. team, birdied three of the first four holes and was 2 up on Sergio Garcia through No. 6 in the first of 12 singles matches on a decisive Sunday that will decide who holds the trophy for the next two years.
Hunter Mahan bounced back from a bogey at the first and held a 2-up lead on Paul Casey through five holes. Local favorite Kenny Perry rolled in a 25-foot birdie at the third for the same 2-up lead on Henrik Stenson.
American Boo Weekley did his best to fire up an already raucous crowd at Valhalla Golf Club. After striking his opening drive in a match against Oliver Wilson, the country boy from the Florida Panhandle stuck the club between his legs and galloped down the first fairway like he was on a horse.
But Wilson, an unheralded Englishman, jumped ahead of Weekley at No. 2 with a dead-on shot out of the rough to about 2 feet. He tapped that one in for a birdie and a 1-up advantage.
Europes Robert Karlsson was 1 up on Justin Leonard after five holes, while the other match in the top half of the draw, American Phil Mickelson vs. Europes Justin Rose, was all-square after four holes. Lefty missed a couple of birdie tries from inside 20 feet, costing him a chance to get out to a quick lead.
The Americans had a 9-7 lead after two days of alternate-shot and better-ball competition, its first lead going into singles since 1995.
U.S. captain Paul Azinger put most of his leading players at the top of the draw, while Europes Nick Faldo went with two of his best players, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington, in the final two matches against Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell, respectively.
The Europeans have won an unprecedented three straight Ryder Cup matches, the last two in routs. They needed 14 points to retain the trophy.
The Americans must get at least 14 1/2 points to end the streak. They were in their best position in more than decade despite missing the worlds best player, Tiger Woods, who was sidelined by knee surgery.