The 1991 US PGA and 1995 Open Champion, who has been out for nearly four months following elbow surgery, rolled back the years with a fine four-under-par 68 in windy conditions to sit in second place.
Daly is three behind fellow American Luke Guthrie, who produced five birdies and an eagle in a wonderful opening 65.
Guthrie needed just 19 putts in his astonishing round, which included back-to-back chip-ins at the 14th and 15th, the second of which brought him an eagle at the monstrously long 612yd par-5.
Peter Uihlein is another shot back in third, with a seven-man group including Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey tied fourth at two under par.
McDowell's round included perhaps the most memorable shot of the day: a 100ft eagle putt on the 13th
Rory McIlroy looked set to get in among the leaders after an outward half of two-under-par 34 that included the only birdie of the day on the outrageously tough par-4 9th hole.
But two bogeys on his back nine - including one at the very birdieable short par-5 13th - left him tied 11th at one under par after a 71.
McIlroy is one of four former world number ones in the very strong field: Lee Westwood shot 72, and Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer shot 75s, the same score as Ross Fisher, who lost last Sunday in a play-off in Perth.
Guthrie was delighted with his efforts.
"It was a great day," he said. "It was one of the better rounds I've ever played. I had 19 putts, and that was definitely the key to my round.
"I had about five weeks off before I played the last two weeks over on the PGA Tour, and I've been playing solid, hitting it a lot better and just been getting a lot out of my rounds again, which is nice."
47-year-old Daly was equally happy with himself after his long lay-off.
"When you don't play competitive for a while, especially against all these guys out here, as good as they are; you want to execute and hit solid shots," he said.
"Luckily I got a lot of shots that came out right today. My elbow has been ailing me for probably six years, and the last four have been really just brutal and finally to get the surgery done, it's nice to be able to pinch chips, which I haven't been able to do in a long time, so that's encouraging.”