Daly, the biggest personality ever to play in the $550,000 Web.com Tour event, had one of the largest opening-day walking crowds in recent memory following him around the Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club layout.
He made that gallery happy with birdies on his first two holes, the par-four 10th and the par-three 11th, and added a chip-in birdie on the difficult par-four 14th. Then, at the end, he rolled in a six-foot birdie putt to finish at three-under 68.
"I hit it solid and I chipped really well," said Daly, a two-time major champion who is playing only his eighth Web.com Tour event since 1990. "I just didn't putt it well. This tour's no different from our tour (the PGA Tour) ... the guys that make putts are the guys that get to 20-under."
Daly needed to chip and scramble after hitting only four of 13 fairways, but he still stood at four-under with three holes to go and was in the middle of the fairway after a bombed drive on the par-five seventh hole.
His second shot, though, went long, bounced over a path and wound up in the water hazard left of the green.
"I had 253 in and I hit the right shot," he said. "I thought I could hit it a little left ... I didn't know there was water left, only playing here for the second time."
The penalty stroke, two chips and two putts led to the seven.
"I played a really good 17 holes, and then for that to happen," Daly said. "Even when I'm playing smart shots, I can't get through a round without making a double or a triple bogey. It's just frustrating."
Daly, though, salved some of that wound with the closing birdie that left him tied for 21st after the first round, but only three shots out of the lead.
"That helped," he said of the final-hole birdie on the ninth hole. "That sort of turned the seven into a six. I just have to make putts ... I haven't made enough to get that 64."
FAMILIAR FACE: First-round co-leader John Peterson had one notable fans in his gallery Thursday – former LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee.
"We were the same age at LSU," said Peterson, whose six-under 65 has him sharing the first-day lead with veteran Danny Ellis. "We got to be good friends. I was a big fan of his back then, so now for him to be out here watching me, that's pretty cool."
Peterson said that being close to his Baton Rouge home was a benefit, allowing him to commute.
"I get to go back home and relax some," he said. "To be in a tournament this close to home that actually means something, it's pretty special."
NICE START: Former UL standout Andrew Noto, who fought his way into the Open field with a six-under 66 in the Monday qualifying, continued his hot play for a while Thursday. He stood at two-under-par through seven holes after birdies at the difficult par-four 14th and the par-three 16th.
Over the next five holes, though, he ran into trouble. The Luling product bogeyed the par-four 18th hole to finish his first nine, and then took bogeys at the third and fourth holes before parring in for a one-over 72.
"It's not what I envisioned after starting out two-under," said Noto, who birdied none of the four par-fives where most of the Open field picks up strokes. "It's good to get one round under my belt for sure. I just couldn't hit it close."
"The whole round, he never really found his (yardage) numbers," said Ragin' Cajun golf coach Theo Sliman, who caddied for Noto in the opening round.
Noto was reminded of Sliman's advice when he was on the first tee of his first Web.com Tour event.
"Coach used to tell us in college that on the first tee you should feel so sick you want to throw up," he said when asked if he was nervous. "But after that first tee shot, I was great."
FORMER CHAMPS: It wasn't a memorable day for any of the six former champions in the Open field. Only one broke par – two-time champion Brett Wetterich, who carded a three-under 68 – and the rest are outside the top 60 after the first day and have work to do to make the cut on Friday.
Wetterich had four birdies and a bogey on the fourth hole, hitting 16 of 18 greens but needing 33 putts in his opening round.
Bubba Dickerson and Skip Kendall are both at even par, while Gavin Coles, Paul Claxton and Ryan Hietala are all at one-over 72. Dickerson, Coles and Claxton all had double-bogeys in their round, the latter two both doubling on the 18th hole.
LOCALS: It was also a tough day for local players, but Brian Rowell remained in contention to make the cut at one-over 72, tied with Noto and a host of others for 79th.
"The course played tough," said Rowell, one of three Lafayette-based players to be paired together in the first two rounds. "We played so late, the greens were pretty rough with footprints and marks. That's not a knock, it's just the nature of it when you're the last group out."
Rowell had four birdies in his round and made the turn at even par before bogeying 11, 13 and 14 in quick succession.
"I didn't drive it well," he said, "and that's huge when it's windy out here. But I kept myself in it."
Lafayette's Michael Smith, like Rowell a sponsor exemption into the Open, also struggled on the back side after going even par on the front. He bogeyed the 11th and 12th, and then had double-bogeys on the 14th and the closing 18th holes.
"That's as bad as it gets, hopefully," Smith said after the round. "It was everything ... ball striking, putting. I didn't make any putts early, hit some bad shots on the back and had some bad breaks."
Lafayette's Matt Berry struggled to a 14-over 85 after qualifying through the PGA Gulf States Section. The other sectional qualifiers also struggled, with Jake Daniels shooting 79 and Jake Narro 80.
Baton Rouge's Scott Sterling and Louisiana native Heath Slocum, both of whom have spent time on the PGA Tour, both carded even-par 71 opening rounds. Andrew Loupe of Baton Rouge, like Peterson a former LSU standout who finished in the top 20 in last year's Open after Monday qualifying, posted a three-over 74.
STTS: The field averaged 71.54 strokes over the par-71 Le Triomphe layout, with the three toughest holes the back-side par-four grouping of Nos. 13, 14 and 18. The "Gator's Jaw" 13th played at a 4.410 average with 15 birdies, 30 bogeys and 21 double bogeys or worse, while the 14th and the 18th both played at 4.236. Nos. 13 and 14 have traditionally ranked as two of the toughest holes on the Web.com Tour.
The easiest holes in the opening round, to no surprise, were the par-five fifth (4.500) and first (4.563), while the easiest of the par-fours was the 10th hole with a 3.792 average. In all, six holes played below par.
Long drive of the day on the measured 14th hole was 361 yards by Australian Ashley Hall, while sponsor exemption Chris DeForest uncorked a 360-yard drive. Five players hit drives of 350 or more yards on that hole.
There were 17 eagles on Thursday, including one on the par-four 17th hole by sectional qualifier Jake Daniels.
UPCOMING: Play begins Friday at 7:40 a.m. off the Nos. 1 and 10 tees, with the second wave beginning at 12:30 p.m. The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties following Friday's second round. Saturday and Sunday's start times for the third and fourth rounds will be determined by the number of players making the cut, but are tentatively set for 8 a.m. for the first groups and 1:30 p.m. for the final pairing.