Daly's last act in a major championship was to take a quick left while walking from the ninth green to the 10th tee during the second round of the US Open and head for the car park. He has only played two tournaments since then but, on a course requiring precision rather than length off the tee, Daly went to the top of the leaderboard with a four-under 66.
Two strokes behind were a group which included the Open champion, Justin Leonard, and the former USPGA winners Paul Azinger and Bob Tway, plus Tom Kite, the US Ryder Cup captain. Kite announces his Ryder Cup wild cards on Monday and showed everyone else what he is looking for when he had birdies at four holes in a row.
Using his driver only four times, Daly more often went with his three- wood and it was that club which set him up with short iron approaches to the last three holes which he put to five feet, four feet and a foot. "It was wonderful to finish with three birdies," Daly said. "They are three of the hardest holes in golf."
This has been one of the more turbulent years in the life of the 31-year- old former Open champion. He ended up in hospital after a drinking binge at the Players' Championship in March, enrolled for the second time at the Betty Ford Clinic and had divorce papers served on him by his third wife, Paulette. "Golf is an addiction, just as alcohol is," he said.
"It's taken me a few years to realise I can't think ahead too far. It's one day at a time and one shot at a time. It's hard but it makes me more patient and more at ease with myself. I've had 15 chances in life. I'm scared of what this disease has done to me and to mess up again."
Daly has been following fitness and nutrition programmes to alleviate the exhaustion which was his reason for quitting the US Open. "I have lost weight and I have a lot more energy, which I haven't had since '91. It feels good to be able to focus for 18 holes instead of only nine."
The other new ingredient in Daly's life is Ely Callaway, founder of the equipment company who signed up Daly when his alcoholism put paid to his previous deal. "He understands people who have this disease," Daly said. "It's a father-and-son thing. He is very supportive. The person comes before the athlete." In return, Daly, who dislikes baseball caps, has started wearing a Hogan-style hat featuring his sponsors' name.
While Tiger Woods was expected to figure prominently on the leaderboard, Daly was not. "You have no choice when you go in the rough but to take your medicine and chip out," Daly said. "Some of the rough may be four inches, as they say, but most of it looks eight inches. But this course reminds me of Crooked Stick because you have to draw the ball off the tee and that helps me a lot."
Woods and Ernie Els could only score level-par 70s, two behind their playing partner, Leonard. Woods went to the turn in 32, but gave two of those shots back with a seven at the par-five 12th. The Masters champion cut his three-wood approach into the trees and it took a few ricochets to emerge. "Until then I was playing and thinking so well," Woods said. "Ernie and I were feeding off each other."
With the prize-money for the championship given a pre-tournament boost, third place here might be good enough for Nick Faldo to qualify automatically for the European Ryder Cup team - but his disappointing season in the majors looks like continuing after a 75. Ian Woosnam was two shots worse off at 77.
The return of the block Faldo has been trying to eradicate was the major cause of his lacklustre performance. "Just too many bad shots," Faldo said. "Bit of a mystery because it's not being going right for the last three days."
While Per-Ulrik Johansson fell away from his outward 32 to return in 41, despite a bogey at the last, Ignacio Garrido, on his first visit to America, gritted his way to a level-par 70. With his win in the German Open in June and second places in the last two weeks, the 25-year-old Spaniard has virtually booked his place at Valderrama.
Early first-round scores from Winged Foot
US unless stated, par 70
B Tway, P Azinger, J Leonard, T Kite, C Perry
D Martin, P Mickelson, L Janzen, T Byrum
I Garrido (Sp), P Goydos, P Stewart, T Woods, E Els (SA), D Duval
A Magee, F Couples, T Watson, L Mize, J Haas
R Philo, L Mattiace, C Stadler, F Nobilo (NZ), N Price (Zim), S Elkington (Aus), T Herron, R Cochran, L Wadkins, D Pooley, B Andrade
K Sutherland, P-U Johansson (Swe), B Faxon, K Triplett, V Singh (Fiji), J Carter, J D Blake
D Clarke (GB), D Waldorf, C Rose, D Hart, L Westwood (GB), J Sluman, B Henninger
M Brisky, N Faldo (GB), S Appleby (Aus), N Ozaki (Japan), T Tolles, M Hulbert
J Hickson, M Standly, P Jordan, R Black, J Parnevik (Swe), E Fiori, C Strange, R Damron, K Gibson
B Chamblee, B Crenshaw, I Woosnam (GB)
R Wilkin, H Sutton, J Mahaffy
W Grady (Aus), D Kestner