The 22-year-old, who won a bronze medal in London four years ago, qualified first for Saturday’s semi-final with a massive score of 571.85 points, which was a personal best.
His performance sent out a major warning to his Chinese rivals Qiu Bo and Chen Aisen.
Three-time world champion Bo didn’t put a foot wrong to finished second with 564.75 points and Aisen scored 545.35.
Those three were well ahead of the rest of the field, with reigning Olympic champion David Boudia qualifying fourth with 496.55 points.
Daley’s lowest scoring dive on the night was his first, which earned him 88.00 points, with his fourth round effort – his forward four-and-a-half somersault – bagging an incredible 103.60 points – the best scoring dive of the night.
Daley will be hoping he can continue that form on Saturday. The semi-final will take place at 3pm (BST), with the final at 8.30pm.
He said after his prelim: “I am really happy with the way it went, but there is still more to come.
“The judges don’t really give out 10s in a prelim so I’m really happy to come to away with a few and a score of 571.
“I felt good, my legs are moving well, I am jumping well, I am comfortable with all my dives and the atmosphere was incredible.
“It wasn’t like a normal prelim where people just clap for the sake of it, people were really enjoying the diving.”
When asked what score he thought it might take to win gold, Daley said: “It is hard to say. In an outdoor environment you don’t know what the weather conditions are going to be like. Is it going to be windy? Is it going to be rainy? Where is the light going to be coming from? Will it distract anyone in particular?
“But I think it is going to take 585 for the gold medal. With a little bit more atmosphere, in terms of a finals atmosphere, the judges should give away a few more 10s. I am going to have to sharpen up, the littlest things.”
Daley has already won one medal in Rio, claiming platform synchro bronze with Plymouth Diving’s Dan Goodfellow.